Anthony Horowitz has a penchant for mysteries. He authored the Alex Rider series of spy novels for teens, created television series like Foyle’s War and Injustice and even penned episodes for the televised adaptation of Poirot, featuring Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective.
Given his prowess at tackling stories of suspense and intrigue, it makes sense that the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Estate commissioned Horowitz to write the first official Sherlock Holmes novels since Doyle’s death. The House of Silk, Horowitz’s first Holmes novel, was released in 2011 to critical acclaim. And Moriarty, the author’s second novel in the Holmes universe, hit shelves last month.
Moriarty takes place after Holmes has gone into hiding following the events at the Reichenbach Falls. In fact, Holmes doesn’t even appear in the novel. The story features two new detectives, American Frederick Chase and Scotland Yard official Athelney Jones, who try to emulate the methods of the legendary “deceased” detective. With a new crime lord, Clarence Devereaux, assuming Professor James Moriarty’s position as the Napoleon of Crime, the detectives must utilize the power of deductive reasoning to take down the sinister figure.
Paste caught up with Horowitz to discuss Moriarty and giving a fresh voice to characters from the 19th Century.
I’ve always been struck by how Moriarty appears so little in the original Holmes canon, yet he’s so often utilised in adaptations and pastiches. Why do you think the character has had such an impact?
Horowitz: First of all, there’s the name. When you think about it, all the best villains have terrific names—Darth Vader, Voldemort, Fu Manchu—and Moriarty is no exception. Secondly, he is introduced as the nemesis of Sherlock Holmes, which immediately gives him stature. Holmes fears and respects him in equal measure. “He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker.” High praise indeed. But perhaps it’s the fact that we know so little about him—he turns up so infrequently (he is the star of one story and is mentioned in another three)—that makes him so compelling.
Paste: Which one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories first hooked you into the world of 221B Baker Street?
Horowitz: When I was a teenager, my favorite story, and the one that hooked me, was “The Dying Detective.” This is the one that has Sherlock Holmes in his deathbed, a victim of the deeply sinister Culverton Smith. It has a fantastic surprise at the end, and it was very much in the back of my mind when I wrote Moriarty.
Paste: This is the second of your Holmes novels, but the former (The House of Silk) featured the detective himself, whereas Holmes mostly shows up in Moriarty through remembrance and hearsay. Was it easier to write in the voice of Watson with Holmes as the protagonist or through the eyes of an American observer?
Horowitz: I’ll be honest and say that I rather missed the voice of Dr. John Watson when I was writing Moriarty. Watson is so humane and distinctive. But I’d decided from the very start that after the success of The House of Silk, I had to do something different. I did enjoy developing the friendship between my two new characters, Detective Inspector Athelney Jones and Frederick Chase.
Paste: By extension, is this novel more indicative of your own voice as a writer? Or do you feel you were able to stay true to yourself even as you aimed to stay authentically in Watson’s/Doyle’s voice as in the previous book?
Horowitz: I hope it’s a combination of the two. I’m still very much in Doyle’s world and use, I think, something of his style and language. And yet I suppose Moriarty is slightly more personal to me. Certainly, the twist is something that I don’t think Doyle would have considered.
Paste: Did you feel more pressure while handling this venerated material, especially given its endorsement from Doyle’s estate, as opposed to writing in a world entirely of your own invention?
Horowitz: No. I would never have written either book if I didn’t believe that I could do justice to Doyle, who is such a wonderful writer … not just of mysteries, but of character and atmosphere. I was determined to do a good job, not just for the estate, but for the millions of Holmes fans around the world. In fact, trying to assume Doyle’s voice forced me to raise my game.
Paste: I loved your characterization of Athelney Jones. The idea of a detective who avidly studies Holmes’ own methods was very poignant to me. What have you learned from reading and writing about Holmes that improved your own critical thinking skills or outlook on life?
Horowitz: Thank you. Well, I loved borrowing Holmes’s methods and working out puzzles that could be solved simply by observation. In The House of Silk, Holmes knows everything Watson has been doing by just glancing at him. Athelney Jones does the same when he first meets Chase in Moriarty. It’s a whole way of thinking that I learned from the master. And there’s also the theme of friendship. Has there ever been a greater friendship in literature than that of Holmes and Watson? Reading about the two of them taught me so much about male bonding and mutual respect, which has impacted both my writing and my life.
Paste: Similarly, what lessons have you learned from Doyle’s own prose?
Horowitz: Doyle was a very great writer indeed. Who else has managed to capture an entire epoch so succinctly? His prose has a wonderful balance and an accuracy … always the right word in the right place. He is economical. He has an energy and a very subtle sense of humor that pervades everything he writes. But I’m not sure I learned this when I was writing my books. I always knew it.
Paste: The recent Holmes adaptations featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey Jr. appear more bent on twisting the detective’s mythos to apply to modern times—either by placing him in the present or by turning him into an action hero. What do you make of those adaptations? Even though you’re writing these novels around the actual tone and time of the original stories, are there any ways you hoped to make it a bit more palatable for modern readers?
Horowitz: I have enjoyed both the Robert Downey Jr. films and the BBC’s Sherlock (although I wish the last season hadn’t strayed so far from both the ethos and the content of the original). For myself, I tried to stay very much in Doyle’s shadow, but I think it’s true that both The House of Silk and Moriarty have a modern sensibility, particularly in the pace and the amount of action. I hope the language of the books sounds authentic without being off-putting.
Paste: Are there more Holmes books to come from you?
Horowitz: It’s possible. My next book is a James Bond novel, this time commissioned by the Ian Fleming estate. It’s a completely different voice! But I may well return one day to Baker Street.