By his own admission, the author of the best-selling series of Alex Rider young adult books has a hard time saying no to new projects.
So when the Conan Doyle Estate approached Anthony Horowitz to write the first officially sanctioned addition to the Sherlock Holmes canon, the London-based author jumped at the chance.
“I knew I’d be interested, I’d read all of his books when I was 16 or 17,” Horowitz said during a recent Toronto visit. The only condition he asked for was to have complete control over the project.
“I didn’t want to show them my notes, I didn’t want to tell them the story, I didn’t want them to read the manuscripts,” he said. “I just wanted to do it on my own. I had to write what I wanted to write, not what other people want me to write.”
Four months after accepting the project, Horowitz completed The House Of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes Novel (Mulholland Books), and when he finally did meet some members of the Conan Doyle Estate, they were pleased with the final product. “They’ve been universally positive and happy with the work that I’ve done.”
The premise behind The House of Silk is that Holmes’ loyal friend and longtime chronicler, Dr. Watson, is an old man looking back at his long career with Holmes, now dead. He feels that before he dies, he has to finally write the story he kept secret all these years, a story so shocking that it would tear apart the entire fabric of society if it were published. After he writes it, he seals the package and gives instructions that the manuscript cannot be published for another 100 years.
“[That’s why] this book hasn’t been seen for a hundred years, because there’s something that Watson wanted to hide, [but] he’s compelled to write it to finish the collection,” Horowitz said. “I really liked the idea of Watson being old, looking back.”
The House of Silk blends two separate but ultimately intertwined stories. It begins innocently when an art dealer visits Holmes at his 221B Baker Street home asking for his help in dealing with a mysterious man he believes is stalking him and his family.
And once again, the game is afoot. Soon a man ends up dead with a mysterious silk ribbon tied around his arm, and the detective finds himself drawn into a complicated web that involves a top secret cabal of people at the highest levels of society.
“As soon as I was approached, I had a lot of ideas – things that seemed obvious to me from the start,” Horowitz said. “This had to be a dark story, had to be something with a scandal and something Watson would not want to write about.”
Horowitz drew on a real historical incident to form the basis of the plot of The House of Silk. “It’s based on a true scandal that took place in 1891, and I often thought there was an interesting story there to write. And then when this was offered to me, I remembered that.”
Horowitz said he didn’t want to improve on Conan Doyle’s books or give them his own take. “The challenge was to give it a modern sensibility, that is to say, it must be a fast page turner with surprises and twists and turns, whilst remaining true to the 19th-century language, idiom and atmosphere and structure of the books.”
Several familiar characters appear in The House of Silk, in addition to Holmes and Watson. Avid readers will recognize Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, the unimaginative Inspector Lestrade and a brief cameo by Holmes’ archenemy Prof. James Moriarty.
“I couldn’t resist having him there,” Horowitz said, even though Moriarty only appears in a handful of the original stories. “I thought about having him as the main villain, but decided against it. So I gave him a cameo, and what I tend to do with the minor, or lesser characters was to be a little surprising with all of them.”
In The House of Silk, Lestrade is surprisingly loyal to Holmes, and we see a different side of Moriarty as well.
Horowitz said the challenge was to remain true to the feel of the original Sherlock Holmes.
“Sherlock Holmes means a great deal to an awful lot of people and has a very special place in their heart, and I didn’t want to offend anyone,” he said. “It was quite a challenge to write something fresh, that was new and exciting and, at the same time, play it absolutely true to the original.”
This book remains closer to the original feel than, say, the recent movie Sherlock Holmes.
“There’s no Sherlock Holmes jumping off a stampeding horse onto the back of a carriage à la Robert Downey Jr.,” he said, although he does include an exciting horse carriage chase.
Horowitz wanted his Holmes to be the “pure Sherlock,” the sedentary, cerebral character. “It’s a book for modern audiences, and it’s also a book for purists.”
Horowitz, whose Alex Rider series has sold millions of copies worldwide, also created and wrote episodes of the popular TV series Foyle’s War. He is not a complete stranger to detective stories. He has written for the English TV series Midsomer Murders and Agatha Christie’s Poirot.
Horowitz said Christie’s popular Belgian detective is completely different from Holmes. “Doyle does not write whodunits. I don’t think there is a single Sherlock Holmes story where the revelation at the end – who did it or why –knocks you out. It’s not his style. There’s no Sherlock Holmes stories that have suspects, there’s no red herrings. It’s a completely different beast.”
Horowitz said he does not intend to write another Holmes book. “I think it’s silly to repeat myself.”
However, he said that writing in the time period has whetted his appetite to write a thriller set in the world of Sherlock Holmes without Sherlock Holmes appearing in it.
“I’m quite looking forward to that.”
See the complete interview with Anthony Horowitz at http://www.cjnews.com/news/books-and-authors/anthony-horowitz-one-one-cjn