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Inside the new Sherlock Holmes book

By Christian DuChateau, CNN
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Fri November 4, 2011
Sherlock Holmes' tales continue in Anthony Horowitz's latest novel.
Sherlock Holmes' tales continue in Anthony Horowitz's latest novel.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The world's greatest detective returns in Anthony Horowtiz's new novel, "The House of Silk"
  • New Holmes novel authorized and written with endorsement of Conan Doyle estate
  • In the story, Watson now lives in a retirement home and Holmes is dead a year

(CNN) -- Sherlock Holmes is back, and it's more than elementary my dear Watson.

Eighty-one years after the death of his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and more than 100 years since the last original story, the world's greatest detective returns in a new novel, "The House of Silk."

The novel may be the peak of what's been recent Holmes renaissance, including "Sherlock," a successful, modern adaptation for the BBC. There's also a Hollywood film starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law which re-imagines Holmes and Watson as steampunk action heroes, it was a hit with movie-goers, even spawning a sequel this holiday.

Bookstore shelves are loaded with tributes, pastiches, spinoffs and repackaged versions of the "sacred 60," Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 56 original short stories and 4 novels, but "The House of Silk" stands apart.

It's the first new Holmes novel authorized and written with the endorsement of the Conan Doyle estate.

Picking up the Meerschaum pipe is Anthony Horowitz, a bestselling novelist and television producer from Britain. Horowitz penned the extremely popular, Alex Rider series, about a teenage super-spy.

He's also written and produced several popular television dramas, including "Foyle's War," and "Midsomer Murders" both seen on PBS. Horowitz says he didn't tinker much with Conan Doyle's creation, hoping to preserve the flavor and tone of the original stories while giving the new novel a modern sensibility and pace.

"The House of Silk" is set in 1890, a London shrouded in fog and shadow, where Hansom cabs still roam the streets. Watson now lives in a retirement home, Holmes is dead a year. Watson recounts one of their earlier cases, so shocking; the pages of its telling have stayed in his solicitor's safe for 100 years.

Now, the usual cast of characters is reunited; Mrs. Hudson, Inspector Lestrade, the Baker Street Irregulars, Holmes' brother Mycroft, even the evil Professor Moriarty. There's a train robbery, a prison break, a carnival freak show, a high-speed chase by horse drawn carriage and a criminal gang that leaves a strip of white silk as their calling card. Once again, the game is afoot.

CNN recently spoke with Horowitz about continuing the Sherlock Holmes canon; the following is an edited transcript.

CNN: How long have you been a fan of Sherlock Holmes? Do you remember reading your first Holmes story?

Horowitz: I was given a complete collection of Sherlock Holmes short stories and the four novels when I was 16. I remember reading "The Sign of Four" first and loving it. The book has a wonderful story with the tentacles of imperial India spreading all the way to suburban London. It has great characters, a macabre murder and a terrific chase down the River Thames. From that moment, I was hooked.

CNN: This is the first time the Conan Doyle estate has authorized a new Holmes novel, how did you get involved?

Horowitz: An agent approached me, but in the end I had very little to do with the estate. It was important to me that I should be allowed to work on my own so nobody gave me notes, I didn't have to show my manuscript to the estate, I wasn't told what I could or couldn't do. To be fair to the estate, they put their complete trust in me and I hope I've repaid it.

CNN: With so many fans worldwide, how daunting a challenge was this?

Horowitz: To be honest, I wouldn't have accepted the assignment if I didn't think I could do it and in the end I found the process, if not exactly easy, then remarkably stress-free. In fact, I loved every minute of the writing. It was a huge privilege to inhabit 221b Baker Street for four months in the company of two great literary figures.

CNN: Much about "The House of Silk" has been kept top secret until now. What can you tell us about the book?

Horowitz: It's set in the winter of 1890, in London and begins with an art dealer who believes he is being followed. He has come into contact with a vicious American gang and it seems that one of their number is out for revenge. But very soon the story spirals out of control and Holmes finds himself drawn into a much wider and deadlier conspiracy that could destroy the entire fabric of British society.

CNN: Do you have a favorite Holmes story?

Horowitz: "The Dying Detective" is my favorite story. It has no murder and very few characters but it's wonderfully ingenious and shows Holmes at his best. "The House of Silk" starts three days after "The Dying Detective" ends.

CNN: Why do you think Holmes has remained arguably the world's most popular detective for more than 100 years?

Horowitz: Well, he was the first, the father of all modern detectives. But I think what makes him so unforgettable is his relationship with Watson. He is austere, irritating, aloof. Watson is warm, loyal, affable. Together, they have the greatest friendship in literature.

CNN: You have a hugely successful career in books, film & TV, how big an impact did the Holmes stories have on you as a writer?

Horowitz: It's probably true to say that they helped to steer me towards murder mystery. I always had a love of puzzles, illusions, magic. Holmes pressed all the right buttons.

Author, Anthony Horowitz reads an excerpt from his Sherlock Holmes novel, "The House of Silk."

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