Sherlock Holmes is enjoying something of a revival of late. A spate of new television and movie adaptations has brought Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ingenious literary creation to a whole new generation of audiences, proving yet again that the detective has enduring appeal. It is hardly surprising then that the Conan Doyle estate has decided to capitalise on the renewed appetite for all things Holmesian by authorising a new, full-length story to be penned by the author and screenwriter, Anthony Horowitz.
The commission marks the first time Holmes has been officially recalled to action since the death of Conan Doyle. The last we heard of the great detective, he was enjoying a quiet and secluded retirement in rural Sussex, immersing himself in the study of beekeeping, far away from the dastardly deeds of London’s criminal underworld. Apart from a brief return to the fray during World War I to engage in some covert espionage at the behest of the Prime Minister, we have heard nothing more of Sherlock Holmes – until now.
Fans will be relieved to hear that the new story will remain faithful to Conan Doyle’s vision. Unlike the recent BBC dramatisation, the imaginatively titled Sherlock, there will be no attempt to modernise the narrative or change the setting. Horowitz has promised "a first-rate mystery for a modern audience while remaining absolutely true to the spirit of the original”. The author's confirmation that his story will see a return to the setting of Victorian England has elicited a collective sigh of relief from innumerable Sherlock Holmes fans across the world.
The resurrection of Sherlock is controversial and certainly a gamble for the Conan Doyle estate. If this new addition to the annals is perceived to fall below the high standard set by Conan Doyle, it will prove extremely unpopular. This is not, however, the first time a literary hero has been revived long after the original author has shuffled off this mortal coil. James Bond famously survived the death of his creator Ian Fleming in 1969, thanks to a number of (largely successful) continuation novels written by authors as diverse as Sebastian Faulks, Charlie Higson, and Kingsley Amis – a formula the Conan Doyle estate no doubt hopes to emulate.
So, what do we know of this man who is entrusted with breathing new life into the iconic character? Horowitz is a prolific author, having published over 50 books, including the popular children’s detective stories The Power of Five and Alex Rider. He has also written extensively for the screen, adapting many of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot stories for television. Certainly his credentials are impressive, but one does not envy him his task; he will undoubtedly feel burdened by the heavy weight of expectation from Holmes's legion of fans. Walking in the hallowed footsteps of Sir Arthur would be a daunting prospect for any author, no matter how accomplished. Let's hope Horowitz manages to emerge from the shadow of Conan Doyle to produce a story worthy of the great detective.
Long live Sherlock Holmes!
UPDATE: The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz was published in late 2011 - and gets a resounding 'thumbs up' from this particular reader. Book review to follow shortly.