Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is said to have hated the character of Sherlock Holmes, which he first created for a short story in 1886. Conan Doyle was far prouder of his historical novels and once dismissed the detective stories as "an elementary form of fiction".

"I must save my mind for better things," he told his mother in a letter shortly before he tried - unsuccessfully - to kill off the enigmatic Baker Street sleuth in 1893.

Would Conan Doyle have been happy that the guardians of his estate have revived Holmes for one last adventure, 84 years after his last Holmes story was published? Possibly not.

But would he have approved of the result of the project, English writer Anthony Horowitz's novel, The House of Silk? Possibly.


I'm a third of the way through The House of Silk - one of our two feature reads for this month - and so far it's got all the elements of classic Sherlock Holmes: shady characters, twisty plotting, feats (and sometimes leaps) of deduction, fog...

Horowitz isn't, of course, the first person to borrow the famous character. Since Doyle gratefully retired Holmes to the country after 56 short stories and four novels, hundreds of writers and film, radio and television directors have dragged him out of retirement.
The latest of more than 200 films to feature the lanky Englishman is the Guy Ritchie-directed Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson, which arrives on New Zealand screens next month.

So what's different about The House of Silk? It's the first new Holmes story to be not just officially sanctioned by the Conan Doyle Estate, but commissioned by them.
(One can only deduce that the guardians of the estate needed a new source of revenue, now that Doyle's canon of work is in the public domain, and available all over the internet for free download.)

And why did they approach Horowitz? Because, by his own admission, he may have committed more (fictional) murders than any other living author. He is best known for the bestselling Alex Rider children's spy series, and for his screenwriting work on such TV shows as Poirot, Midsomer Murders and Foyle's War.

Horowitz has come up with a plausible enough excuse for the release of a new Holmes novel. The premise is that the events described in The House of Silk occurred in 1890 but the case was so scandalous that Watson delayed writing it up until after Holmes's death, and then ordered it be consigned to his solicitor's vaults for 100 years.

The House of Silk begins as it (presumably) intends to continue, in the classic style of Sherlock Holmes. Holmes and Watson are having pound cake and tea in the detective's Baker Street study when in steps a flustered upper-class London art dealer with a tale of murder and intrigue, and of being stalked by a scar-faced American in a flat cap.

As Holmes and Watson delve deeper into the case it becomes more complex and deadlier until they uncover, in Watson's words, a conspiracy so shocking and monstrous that it threatens to "tear apart the entire fabric of society".

I'll continue to blog about The House of Silk in the next few weeks, and try to pin down Horowitz for a Q&A later in the month. In the meantime, feel free to pick up a copy and share your thoughts.