onsdag 30 maj 2012

The game's afoot... again

I'm fairly lucky with my "alternative to Strindberg" reading at the moment. The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz, a sequel to the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson that has the stamp of approval of the Arthur Conan Doyle estate, started a bit slow but soon picked up and proved to be an enjoyable read.  The author is faithful to the personalities of the dynamic duo, and Lestrade gets an unusually good press, which is nice. Clearly I'm not the only one with a soft spot for this put-upon policeman (that he was played by weaselly-in-a-cute-way Colin Jeavons in the classic Jeremy Brett TV series helps). The other characters are sharply portrayed as well; the sinister Inspector Harriman, for instance, makes an excellent baddie. I was too worried about the fix Holmes had got himself into to be able to enjoy Harriman's baddiedom completely, however - which is a compliment coming from me, easily distracted as I am whenever there's an accomplished villain on the scene. Speaking of villains, Moriarty makes a guest appearance and is satisfactorily professorial. Holmes and Watson hurtle from one colourful venue to the next in the quest for the truth - an elegant town-house, a children's charity, an opium den, Holloway Prison, an exotic fair... Most things you expect from a crime caper set in Victorian times you will find in The House of Silk.

And this is, in one way, also the main fault of the novel. It surprised me that one of its Big Reveals has in fact been mentioned often in articles published in connection with the book's publication. Horowitz himself has made no secret of it. Why? Maybe it's because the activities of the "House of Silk" don't come as much of a surprise anyway to someone familiar with the Victorian Crime genre. If, by chance, you reach the dénouement without warning of what it will be about, your reaction is more likely to be a jaded "what, again?" rather than a shocked "no, really?". As I mentioned when I grumbled over Mr Timothy, I grow weary of all the "oooh, aren't those Victorians horrid?" hand-wringing of modern novels set in Victorian London. Yes, horrible things happened in Victorian days - as they do in our modern days, let's not forget, though often so far away from our everyday lives that we feel comfortable with pointing a finger at the long-dead instead - but not everywhere, all the time. Also, it seems unlikely that just about every establishment figure, especially if he has a title or is part of the government, should be knee-deep in filthy secrets. Could we maybe give the Victorian Establishment a break, once in a while? There were quite a lot of decent Victorians about who were genuinely concerned about combatting social ills and not the least bit twisted. And I'm guessing a fair proportion of them were Lords and Sirs.

If my criticism sounds a bit woolly, it's because I don't want to give too much away. I liked Horowitz's novel and would recommend it to fans of Holmes and Victorian Crime generally - and if you're not wise to what "The House of Silk" is when you read it, so much the better. Those in the know need not be put off, though - there are more surprises in store when Holmes winds up the case.