It was a dark winter’s day in 2011 when I sat down to compile my notes about the Horowitz publication into a coherent whole.
The case takes place in 1890 and is really made up of two closely-linked cases: The Adventure Of The Art Gallery Owner And The Family That Drops Like Flies and the titular Mystery Of The House Of Silk. They are perhaps linked in an attempt to prove that, like in The Six Napoleons, there is no case more satisfying than that which ties up another case in its conclusion. In the course of solving the cases, Holmes gets arrested, Watson does… not much, and Holmes uncovers a scandal reaching to the highest levels of government. Usual Holmes pastiche fare, really. One suspects that any plans that Queen Vicky had to knight him went down the drain quickly when he kept uncovering all those scandals in cheap pastiches.
They’ve come up with a way to explain why this chronicle allegedly penned by Watson has taken so long to reach the public eye when some more scandalous cases were published at the time (for instance, one of the original stories features submarine plans being stolen by somebody closely connected to a higher-up. One can just imagine the headlines). The book starts by saying that it has been a year since Holmes died in his home, and after that Watson wrote up the case and had it sealed for 100 years. This would be a good conceit if it wasn’t utter cobblers. The problem with it is that it gives a death-date for Holmes of 1910. If one takes his year of birth as being 1854 (as the recent Young Sherlock Holmes books do), that makes him 56 at the time of his death. That’s not impossible if you consider the type of man that Sherlock Holmes is. What does make it impossible is that Sherlock Holmes is alive and kicking in 1914 (His Last Bow).
Holmes purists may take umbrage at the fact that Watson meets Moriarty a year early. This happens in a rather credibility-straining scene in which, despite Watson never being told Moriarty’s name, he is told to react when he hears it in The Final Problem as if he’s hearing it for the first time. As anyone who’s tried to keep a secret knows, despite your best efforts there will inevitably be some sort of slip that implies you know more than you’re letting on.
How much you enjoy The House Of Silk depends very much on how much of a purist you are. If the extent of your Holmes knowledge is that Sherlock Holmes is a guy who solves mysteries in Victorian London with a guy named Watson, then you’ll enjoy this book. If you’re a person who gets bent out of shape over every factual error (I’m not but as you read above, there were a couple of noticeable ones) then that’ll probably affect your enjoyment of the book. I thought it was an enjoyable read and it’s not quite up there with the best of the Doyle canon, but it’s much better than some of the stuff that Doyle put out. It’s up there with the middling Doyle tales.