The Who2 Blog

Many Are Called, But Few Are Conan

The National Post dips into the world of modern-day Sherlock Holmes authors.

“I don’t think anybody can ever come close to the original, and anybody who writes about Holmes is paying tribute to Conan Doyle… It’s fun to slip into those shoes for a few minutes and write about the character [but] I think you’re always, always aware of how far you fall below the mark set by Conan Doyle. You can have fun doing it, but there are not very many people who do it well.”

Sherlock Holmes is one of “the three most recognizable fictional characters in the world, along with James Bond and Mickey Mouse.” Which makes him both tricky and irresistable to write about. Most authors work around the issue by placing Holmes in new situations:

“He’s met Churchill and Hitler. He’s fought in the First World War. He’s come across Tarzan, Jekyll and Hyde, Dracula. By and large, [those books are] all terrible — most of them.”

Or you can always, say, blow his drug use out of proportion.

But Alan Horowitz’s new book The House of Silk is a rare attempt to write a straight-up Holmes in the grand manner, with the approval of the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The book “represents the ‘most sensational’ case of Sherlock Holmes’ career. It has been locked away in a vault for 100 years, as per Watson’s wishes, who deemed it ‘too monstrous, too shocking to appear in print.'”

Reviews have been respectful. The Independent:

“Horowitz has forged a loving pastiche, rather than a thoroughgoing reinvention, and the facsimile of Conan Doyle’s style is unerring… It’s to be hoped that he attempts his polished literary ventriloquism again.”

And The Guardian:

Dorothy L. Sayers understood the rules of the Holmesian game when she remarked that ‘it must be played as solemnly as a county cricket match at Lord’s: the slightest touch of extravagance or burlesque ruins the atmosphere.’ Horowitz plays a perfectly straight bat.”

But are a straight bat and “polished literary ventriloquism” really the best to be hoped for? Why even care?

“I don’t think anyone is ever done with Holmes and Doyle, no matter how much they claim to be. [Doyle wrote] a set of stories that, once they get in the bloodstream, they never leave, no matter how much you want them to.”

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