By Alexandra Alter
Horowitz, author of the bestselling Alex Rider young-adult series, says he jumped on the opportunity after he was approached through his agent by the Arthur Conan Doyle estate. It’s the first time Doyle’s estate has given a new Sherlock Holmes novel its stamp of approval.
“The House of Silk,” which is being published simultaneously in the U.S. and Britain this week, takes place in 19th century London, and closely adheres to the conventions of a classic Holmes mystery. The case unfolds as Holmes and Watson investigate a threat against a gallery owner. The investigation leads them to uncover an international criminal ring with ties to the government.
Horowitz drops in Holmesian observations (“The game’s afoot!”), familiar characters like Professor Moriarty and Holmes’s landlady, Mrs. Hudson, and references to Holmes’s fondness for cocaine and firearms.
“It’s full of references that most people will know and a lot that people won’t know,” Horowitz says.
This novel was commissioned by the Arthur Conan Doyle estate. Did they have any creative stipulations, like sticking close to the original character and setting, or were you given total freedom?
When I was offered this, the first thing I said was that I wanted nothing to do with anybody. I didn’t want notes from the Doyle estate. I didn’t want to show them the manuscript…The attraction of it was to move in to 221B Baker Street, to move in and spend time with Holmes and Watson and have no one else in the room, unless it was Mrs. Hudson.
What was the appeal of writing a Sherlock Holmes mystery?
Almost immediately I knew I had to do this. I’ve been a lifelong admirer of the Sherlock Holmes novels. My whole career was kick-started by them. I’d read them first when I was seventeen years old….. As soon as I had this commission I went back to them, and I like them as much now as I did when I was 17. In fact, I like them even more.
What struck you about the Sherlock Holmes stories – do you feel like they age well?
Conan Doyle is the father of all modern crime fiction. He’s where it all began — story structure, elegance the way clues are used. It’s a master class in crime writing. It doesn’t get better. This wasn’t the case of dusting off an antique. It’s still a perfectly tuned engine.
What I was trying to do was to break no rules, to do exactly what Doyle did.
How did you strike the balance of authenticity and allegiance to the originals on the one hand and a swift moving plot for a modern audience on the other?
By immersing myself in the world of Holmes and Watson, but with a fast placed plot with loads of twists. Nobody’s guessed the ending. Not yet.