Book Review: The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

 The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz
This book has been drifting around my TBR for a bit. But after my recent read of From Holmes to Sherlock by Mattias Boström, I find myself moving any and all Sherlock Holmes stories up on my to-read list. This book is significant because is is one of the only stories to win the seal of approval from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate, his heirs being determined to jealously preserve the Holmes mystique. So with all that in mind, there’s a lot of pressure on Horowitz to deliver not only a good mystery, but also a Sherlock Holmes mystery.

The story begins in typical fashion, with Holmes and Watson (visiting his old friend while his wife is away) sitting in their respective chairs by the fire. Sherlock delivers his usual uncannily accurate observations on Watson’s recent activities. Watson, per usual is totally flabbergasted until the requisite explanation is offered. From there we delve into a multifaceted mystery encompassing stolen artwork, Irish gangs, Pinkerton Detectives, and threats to the Baker Street Irregulars. 

Horowitz is careful to include many of the common elements from Conan Doyle’s stories. The House of Silk, written for a modern audience, is darker and more violent than the original stories. Horowitz, not needing to contend with Victorian sensibilities, is able to lay out what Doyle only hinted at. In all, though, this is a well done addition to the Holmes canon. Fans of Sherlock Homes (duh) or Victorian mysteries should add this book to their to-read lists.

Book Review: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

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The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Another long-timer in my TBR down! Obviously after reading The Haunting of Hill House, this was the next logical step.

Arthur Kipps, up-and-coming young lawer, is sent to tend to the estate of recently deceased widow Alice Drablow. Upon arriving at the small village of Crythin Gifford, Kipps finds that the locals regarded Mrs. Drablow and her isolated manor, Eel Marsh House, with a wariness bordering on fear. Feeling rather superior to what he regards as uneducated superstition, Kipps resolves to stay overnight at Eel Marsh House, the better to complete his work efficiently. Once at the house, however, and trapped by the tide, Kipps discovers that the residents of Crythin Gifford feared the old woman and her house for good reason.

This was a truly creepy book. I’m very glad we’re into the springtime here; reading this book in the dark of winter would have been terrifying. As it was, I found myself thoroughly creeped out on more than one occasion. Hill does a great job at providing us with an unforgettable and menacing location in Eel Marsh House. The grand, ancient manor, sitting high in a desolate landscape, unreachable and inescapable during the high tide is claustrophobic and vividly unnerving. The Woman in Black herself, with her skeletally thin and bone white face, and unceasing aura of malevolence and hate is a figure out of a nightmare.

Horror fans: this is a must read! There’s an excellent reason The Woman in Black is considered a classic in the genre. Any one looking for a quick, creepy read need look no further.

A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell #1)

A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell, #1)

A Curious Beginning By Deanna Raybourn

4 out of 5 Stars

 

Deanna Raybourn definitely has a type. Strong, intelligent women, and the rakish, flawed men who trail in their wake. Since her debut with Silent in the Grave (The first in her Lady Julia Grey series), Raybourn has featured refreshingly strong female leads in her books, women who are smart and capable, yet fully human and flawed.

I certainly enjoy the theme she has set for herself, and “A Curious Beginning,” was exactly as I expect from Raybourn.

This is the first book in a new series featuring protagonist Veronica Speedwell, and takes place around the same era as her previous series (the mid 1880s). Veronica Speedwell is a woman ahead of her time, an amateur lepidopterist, willfully headstrong, searingly direct, and far too independent (not to mention an orphan of unknown parentage). Returning from the funeral of her elderly aunt, she finds a strange man has broken into her cottage, and proceeded to wreck the place in search of something. From there a fortuitous meeting with a kindly stranger (who, naturally, seems to know something about her past) whirls her to the docks of London, where we meet the tall, dark, and brooding leading man of the series, Stoker (all leading men are tall and dark for Deanna Raybourn, and they all brood professionally). When the kindly stranger winds up dead soon afterwards, Veronica and Stoker are thrown together to try to solve the mystery not only of the murder, but of Veronica’s past.

I love Deanna Raybourn’s books for a fun mystery with well-researched historical details, and witty banter between her protagonists. “A Curious Beginning” didn’t disappoint in this regard, the book was an enjoyable day and half read, and her characters, while occasionally ridiculous, generally manage to be sympathetic and interesting. Raybourn is very good at layering mysteries; Stoker seems to have quite a few secrets of his own, and is quite loathe to share. Her plot is also loaded with the prerequisite red herrings and false revelations. And, if I can speak frankly, I always love having a strong female protagonist take the lead. I’m sexist like that.

I do feel, however, that this book isn’t as strong as her Julia Grey series. Veronica Speedwell as a character is in some respects so far ahead of her time as to be anachronistic. Let’s not forget that the book is set in the latter years of Victorian England, and sometimes it seems quite impossible for a woman to get away with the things that she does in the story. At times, her character seems like someone who would be more at home in a novel set in the 1920s or 1930s. Additionally, aspects of the mystery are a bit sloppy and overly telegraphed. A reasonably astute reader has a good chance of figuring out most of the plot with 100 pages still to go. Fortunately, I generally enjoy Raybourn’s writing style, so continuing on through the plot wasn’t difficult.

In sum, if you enjoy a fun and frivolous historical mystery, this book is a good bet. I’d say take it out to the hammock or down to the beach, and enjoy a nice, relaxing read.