This story takes place as a series of flashbacks recounted by an ageing John Watson. Many of the characters from the original Sherlock Holmes stories have died, and Watson is putting down one more that had not been told during Holmes’ lifetime. An art dealer comes to Holmes and Watson for help, and the two detectives are drawn into a second mystery when three key witness-suspects are killed, one apparently by Holmes himself. Holmes is arrested and put in prison, but eventually escapes to join Watson for the final raid on the House of Silk.
As a continuation of the Sherlock Holmes tradition, I like the story itself. The plot follows a similar pattern of investigation and discovery, but the addition of Watson’s investigation without Holmes makes things new and a little more interesting. I have to admit, the final revelation concerning the House of Silk involves an eye-roll inducing discovery of the confusion between the acronym SILC and the word ‘silk’. There are scattered references to the original Conan-Doyle stories that I appreciated as well, although for a reader who doesn’t know the originals these references may only be confusing. The added historical background, to some extent necessary to create a novel-length story, actually works pretty well in supporting the investigation conducted by Holmes,Watson, and sometimes Lestrade.
There are two elements about the book that I did not enjoy as much. First, the occasional reminders that nearly all of the original characters have died (nearly all the classics characters except Mycroft and Watson) by the time Watson is telling the story, add little but irritating (ie-pointless) melancholic pathos. Some nostalgia or after-the-fact information of relevance does come up during these reflective passages, but overall they ruin the suspense and atmosphere of the classic Holmes detective story. The other problem I have with how the story is told is the added moments of emotion from Holmes. These feel like they were designed to appeal to a more contemporary reader, but for me at least, they take away from the original logic-driven Sherlock Holmes character. In the original short stories, Holmes certainly has moments of human emotion (usually limited to one or two brief reactions per story), but in the novel-length adaptation, these moments all add up to interference with the original characterization.
Although I am a fan of the original short stories, I am not such a purist that I oppose what is essentially fan-fiction. The introduction of Watson’s mysterious informant and the allusion to Moriarty’s possible intervention in the case towards the end of the story diverge from the original characterization of Professor Moriarty, but not in a problematic way. Clearly, the final comments by Watson are designed to set up the next novel (which I plan to read at some point in the not to distant future) but they actually make the character more interesting. I just hope that the second book keeps the strengths of hte first without messing too much with the established characters.