Entertainment & Arts

Anthony Horowitz reopens the Sherlock Holmes casebook

Anthony Horowitz (Photo: Adam Scourfield)
Image caption Anthony Horowitz has written a string of best-selling children's books, including the Alex Rider series

Anthony Horowitz explains why he was so keen to resurrect Sherlock Holmes - 81 years after the death of his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

"I'm not an arrogant person by nature, but in this case I just knew I could do it," says Anthony Horowitz.

The best-selling author is talking about his novel, The House of Silk - a brand new Sherlock Holmes adventure for 21st century readers.

It is the first time a Sherlock Holmes story has been officially sanctioned by the Conan Doyle estate.

When Horowitz was asked just over a year ago if he wanted to take on the challenge, he already had most of the plot worked out by the end of the meeting.

"It just fell into my lap," says Horowitz, when we meet at his publisher's office in London. "The Conan Doyle books are too well written to try, and fail."

The House of Silk is a "missing" Sherlock Holmes case, written up by Dr Watson after Holmes's death, but considered by him to be too shocking to be published in his lifetime.

Horowitz, writer of the Alex Rider teenage spy novels, has not strayed from the formula that made the original Conan Doyle stories such a success.

His Holmes and Watson occupy a London of swirling fog and gas lamps, while 221B Baker Street has a fire blazing in the hearth and the smell of tobacco in the air.

The story begins in November 1890, when Holmes and Watson are visited by an art dealer who begs for help after being stalked by a scar-faced man.

The pair are soon on the case, Watson with his trusty service revolver in hand, but it leads them on a trail far darker than they imagined.

Sherlock aficionados - and there are many - are likely to welcome Horowitz's inclusion of familiar faces such as Inspector Lestrade, Mrs Hudson and the Baker Street Irregulars.

"I'm not a huge fan of prequels and sequels, and the cynical rush to make money on the back of books by other writers who are now dead," admits Horowitz.

"I cant think of any other character in literature - except maybe James Bond - who would have tempted me. But the notion of actually moving into 221B Baker Street and spending a bit of time with Holmes and Watson was irresistible."

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Media captionWriter Anthony Horowitz has said he will finish writing books for children soon

It is a few hours after his book has gone on sale, and Horowitz is clearly delighted by the early reviews.

"They are the best I've ever had," he beams. "As a children's author, reviewers are generally very nice to you. I only ever wrote one adult book and received such a kicking for it that I was in trauma for the next six months."

In his Guardian review, Ian Sansom writes: "Can he astonish us? Can he thrill us? Are there "the rapid deductions, as swift as intuitions, and yet always founded on a logical basis" that we yearn for?

"Emphatically, yes. The characters are, as Conan Doyle himself would have them, as close to cliche as good writing allows."

Sherlock overload?

It may be an elementary observation, but currently there is no shortage of Sherlock in popular culture.

Guy Ritchie's movie sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law, is out next month.

Meanwhile, a second series of the BBC drama Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, will be broadcast in 2012.

Does Horowitz think people may suffer Sherlock overload? "I don't think so, though I'm rather happy that my book has come out first. I think that they can all live comfortably together."

Before he started on The House of Silk, Horowitz re-read all of Conan Doyle's 56 short stories and four novels about the Baker Street sleuth.

He also set down a number of rules: his story would be narrated by Watson, there would be no romance, no attempts to re-write Conan Doyle's universe, and no appearances by famous people.

"There have been pastiches where Sherlock Holmes has met Jack the Ripper, Queen Victoria, Dracula and even Adolf Hitler," says Horowitz.

Image caption Horowitz's Sherlock Holmes story is the first to have the seal of approval of the Conan Doyle estate

"I decided quite early on that I wouldn't have drugs. Having Sherlock Holmes reeling around the place under the influence of cocaine struck me as slightly tiresome."

But he found the actual writing process much faster than on many of his other novels.

"I've been reading 19th century literature virtually all my life and so it is a world I'm very comfortable in. I was quite surprised how easily I slipped into Holmes's Turkish slippers.

"The truth of the matter is that Doyle had already done a large part of the work for me in creating that relationship and that world, and a wonderful cast of minor characters to draw on. I sweated over the Alex Rider books, but The House of Silk was a pleasure."

Horowitz became hooked on Holmes as a teenager. The stories helped shape his future career. As a TV screenwriter his creations include Foyle's War and Midsomer Murders, as well as adapting many of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot novels.

"Holmes certainly pushed me into murder mystery writing," he says. "Writing this book, I do feel in a strange way that I've some full circle because this is where I began."

The House of Silk (Orion Books) is out now in hardback.

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