House of Silk, Holmes & Horowtiz

Last Thursday we gathered at Meeting Room B “Baker Street” to partake of our annual Holiday Yule Cake, and to discuss the fascinating tale related by author Anthony Horowitz called The House of Silk. Those who were particular readers and fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic stories of Sherlock Holmes and his best friend and biographer, Dr. John Watson, were not disappointed in reading Horowitz story – authorized by Doyle’s estate. In fact, that is understating the response: everyone loved this story! To paraphrase one member: ‘I kept waiting for him to blow it; to put things in that Holmes or Watson wouldn’t say or do, or to break with the period [the story is set in 1890s London] but he maintained the flow and the story just kept building – I couldn’t put it down!’

We talked about how both in language and period Horowitz does an outstanding job of capturing the feel of the original Doyle stories, while adding some depth of social consciousness, and even humanity to Holmes that is seen through pursuit of the killer of Ross, the young boy who’d been a new “Baker Street Irregular”. This group of street boys (or “ragamuffins” as Mrs. Hudson refers to them) act as Holmes eyes and ears in the more questionable parts of London, and in the “lower class” social circles he is not a part of. We talked a bit about these social circles, and how completely the enfranchised rich and aristocratic had power over the general population – and even Holmes himself.


The whole setting up of Holmes for the murder of Sally Dixon, Ross’ sister, and the lack of voice that he has as a defendant during the English prison court trial, showed a frightening lack of control over one’s personal life overall, and how criminal prosecution could so easily work against an individual if he was not part of those in control.

…End of SPOILER!

We really liked the layering of crime and social issues of the time and mentioned how it was reminiscent of Anne Perry’s Victorian mysteries (which we’ve identified to be added to our titles for the next MAF Planning meeting in August!) This consciousness is expressed by Watson in particular about how little he’d thought about what the affect of being a Baker Street Irregular might be for these young boys. It certainly was not something on Holmes’ mind in a significant way until Ross is killed. We talked about how some critics have said that this death affected Holmes too much, and wasn’t believable given his solitary and unsociable style. We countered that it is completely within his character to become obsessed with justice for the boy – not only from a personal responsibility aspect, but because finding the true killer in a murder investigation is integral to what Sherlock is all about.

Patti mentioned a comment made on the New York Public library’s discussion on this book about how it employs a structure often used by Doyle of having Holmes solving “double mysteries”. In this case it is the adventures of The Man in the Flat Cap, and The House of Silk. Using this technique, Watson relates two criminal situations which appear to be completely unrelated, and part of the revelations that gives them such a fun twist, is seeing how very wrong that appearance is.

The group liked the timeline used by Horowitz to let us know that the story, while written in 1890 according to Watson, is not published until 1915 due to the scandalous nature of one crime – and the people involved in it – in particular. We felt it emphasized how despicable and horrific this crime would have been given the era when it occurred, and that, for his own well-being, Watson would not have been able to publish the story while certain key characters were still alive. Patti brought in a couple of other interesting incidents in history that would have taken place during this time frame, and have informed Doyle about both the social situation of street boys in London, and a pertinent trial that occurred between the story in 1890 and the publication in 1915 that relates to the scandal in the House of Silk: the first was the publication in 1839 of Charles Dickens’ novel, Oliver Twist, (and the celebrated status of Dickens as a writer of fiction with social commentary), the later is the 1895 trials of Oscar Wilde.

We also spoke of some of the interesting places and characters that are mentioned here and used elsewhere in Sherlock Holmes stories. There will be links in the “Author Docket” on Horowitz and this story to such things as: the Diogenes Club, Gentlemen’s clubs, the prison at Holloway (where Oscar Wilde also resided for a time) , and a great article that one member sent to “The Ten Rules for Writing a Sherlock Holmes Novel”. That link is also here: http://www.mulhollandbooks.com/2012/10/05/1557/.

The other two characters we spent some time on were Mycroft, and the Mysterious Mathematician (as we call him in our Cast of Characters list!) Members new to Holmes wondered if we ever got background information about Holmes upbringing and family, and how he came to be a “consulting detective”. While he arrives on the scene in A Study in Scarlet in 1887, Holmes is already a consulting detective and details about his past are slim to none. It takes a while to even find out he has a brother at all! Having Mycroft in this story was in fact a very nice touch on Horowitz’ part as it helps to round out newcomers’ understanding of Holmes – plus the first exchange between the two is such a fun piece of observational one-upmanship:

“ ‘My dear Sherlock!’ Mycroft exclaimed as he waddled in. ‘How are you? You have recently lost weight, I notice. But I’m glad to see you restored to your old self.’

“ ‘And you have recovered from influenza.’

“ ‘A very mild bout. I enjoyed your monograph on tattoos. Written during the hours of the night, evidently. Have you been troubled by insomnia?’

“ ‘The summer was unpleasantly warm. You did not tell me you had acquired a parrot.’

“ ‘Not acquired, Sherlock. Borrowed. . . . You have just returned from Gloucestershire.’

“ ‘And you from France.’

“ ‘Mrs. Hudson has been away?’

“ ‘She returned last week. You have a new cook.’

“ ‘The last one resigned.’

“ ‘On account of the parrot.’

“ ‘She always was highly strung.’ ”

— Courtesy of a Washington Post article.

As you may tell, the group highly enjoyed this excellent addition to the adventures of Sherlock Holmes – and was very pleased to hear that there’s at least been a tweet that says Anthony Horowitz is working on a sequel. We can’t wait!

In the meantime we look forward to The Sherlockian, our January selection, where we’ll be taken into the world of today’s “Baker Street Irregulars” – the literary society that honors the works of Conan Doyle’s most famous character, and his unparalleled portrayal of the friendship of a lifetime he shares with Dr. Watson. If you would like to make comments on Holmes, Watson, or The House of Silk, please add them here!

Author Andrew Gross

Last night’s meeting on The Blue Zone by Andrew Gross held a few surprises, some raucous laughter, and lively commentary from all attendees. Our phone call with Andrew was postponed, but because he is a true gentleman, we are going to have a second chance at getting together with him by phone in July. We’ve scheduled a book discussion on his novel No Way Back for the third Thursday in July: July 17th.  Andrew also let us know that this book is being made into a TV series, possibly premiering in the fall of 214 – so we’ll get an early glimpse of what that has involved as well!

Once we got over Patti’s startling footwear, and the protagonist’s name in Jo Nesbø’s mystery series, discussion turned to The Blue Zone, and everyone had something to say. One of our members is a long-time fan of Andrew’s books, and this one is a particular favorite. Group members overall agreed that they’d enjoyed the book and that it filled the #1 requirement of good thrillers – it was very hard to put down!

There were a few comments made about points that were troublesome for readers. One comment mentioned that it was hard to believe that Kate would chance harm to her family by searching them out once they went into the witness protection program without her. There was some discussion on whether Kate’s decision to stay with, and marry her fiancé, was believable — which the group decided it was. This led to talk about her husband Greg and the twist in the story involving his personal background, the shock it brings to Kate, and if we thought they had a chance at making it as a couple. (We think they do!)  This brought up the topic of the main theme of the story, family – and what defines a family. At its most scary interpretation, Mercado and others offer the belief that fraternidad (where blood washes blood) is the most important aspect of family. It is certainly the driving force behind Ben’s motivation and more than one member found it difficult to relate to such a different concept of family, and family honor,; leading, as it does, to the deaths of two mothers, and the attempted death of two daughters, as well as the agents killed along the way. We also felt that the commitment to the “fraternidad” was intermixed with the desire for power.

One member felt that the most interesting character in the story was Ben, and the transition he makes from unquestioned supportive father, caring husband, and trustworthy businessman, to someone far different. We talked about how it would be possible for him to change his treatment of Kate, and felt that it was part of the process he needed to follow to distance himself from her and fulfill his reason for avoiding the witness protection agents and police.

We also talked about Andrew’s use of the female perspective – both in this book, and in other novels – particularly the two Women’s Murder Club books he co-authored with James Patterson. We felt that overall he had a very good grasp on creating believable, realistic, and strong women. His focus on them is so strong, that it even over shadowed the male child in this book, Justin. You know far less about him and his place in the story is relatively small, while both Em and Kate are strong, feisty young women who are smart and athletic. We liked how the sports they both are good at – sculling and squash – reflect the privileged background Gross created for them. We did question whether some of their reactions (Kate’s in particular) weren’t more “guy” oriented than a female writer would have made them.

Other points were made that entail spoilers, which we do not publish, but we do feel that the ending plot twists, while not always believable for a couple folks, were too much fun not to finish – and that we all very willingly will read more by this author, especially No Way Back this coming July!

In other business, the group has mentioned that they want to make sure we have both Jo Nesbø and Linwood Barkley down for authors we might want to vote for in our planning meeting in August 2014. We also noted that next month’s meeting, on Thursday, Dec. 5th is early in the month so we didn’t conflict with the holidays – but that folks will want to do some speed reading on our book: The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz!

As you can see, a lot was said at this meeting – but there’s always more we can add, so if you’d like to leave comments, please do!

Lisle Library is hosting Lisa Scottoline tonight at Benet Academy’s Daniel Hall at 7:00 p.m. Doors open at 6:30. The first 200 attendees will get a free copy of one of Lisa’s books!  Don’t miss this rare chance to hear a major New York Times best-selling author – both for her suspense novels and her semi-biographical non-fiction.Click on the picture to get details from our calendar about this event.

Author Lisa Scottoline

The Face of Deception with Skeleton cupcakes Picture of author Iris Johansen

Skeletal cupcakes accompanied Iris Johansen’s The Face of Deception to last night’s mystery discussion – along with flyers for the upcoming Love is Murder mystery conference (the Chicago area’s only mystery conference!) that will be held at the InterContinental Chicago O’Hare on February 7th & 8th , 2014. The bookmarks on the right are for our final discussion groups cross-over event: the BBC TV show Sherlock episode of The Hound of the Baskervilles shown by our Just Between Frames film group on Nov. 7th, to follow up on the book-based discussions MAF and Fixed on Fiction members had on this classic tale by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (Click the links to go: The Love is Murder conference site, The InterContinental Chicago O’Hare hotel information, or the Just Between Frames blog info on the BBC Sherlock event.) Click on the picture of author Iris Johansen above, to go to her website or these bolded words to get  Fantastic Fiction‘s list of all her books – and some fun information on the author!

Accompanying enthusiastic cupcake consumption, the group discussion on The Face of Deception was lively and forthright. One member stated unequivocally, that she found the billionaire, John Logan, to be a manipulative, unappealing character and wondered what Eve was thinking to accompany him to Tahiti at the end of the novel. This led to a discussion about the two male leads who are strongly interested in Eve: John Logan, and Lieutenant Detective Joe Quinn. We found that both men are not being completely straight with Eve and are still treating her as though she was still as fragile as she was when her daughter was kidnapped and murdered. This tragic event happened eight years ago, and Eve has come a long way since then, although her ability to connect with people beyond a work context is still shaky.

Patti shared background about the author, and how she came up from the ranks of series romance writing, to writing historical romance, and then trying her hand at the evolving genre of romantic suspense and thrillers. We talked about how the structure of the story is unusual, and could be considered a “who-is-it” versus a “whodunit”. Logan finesses Eve into working on the skull of an unknown man. Initially it is strongly hinted that the skull could be that of a famous and powerful politician. All Eve knows, is that the people who do not want her to identify who it is, are willing to do any number of heinous things to keep the identification from happening. Once this occurs, the story shifts into a “how will they prove it” as well as a “can they survive it” – both classic elements of a thriller/suspense story. We discussed how the era of the late 90s romantic suspense was becoming more thriller-oriented and less gothic-romance based (as it was with past read, The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart).

Other writers who traveled the path from category romance to the new romantic suspense/thrillers were: Tess Geristen, Jayne Ann Krentz, Nora Roberts, Tami Hoag, & Sandra Brown among others. From this base, female authors in particular have launched into the current straight thriller camp, bringing an element of deeper relationships to their fast-paced thriller plots. We also talked about how Johansen has been something of a trail-blazer in “developing the habit of following characters from book to book, sometimes introducing minor characters in one novel who then become major figures in another. She developed families, relationships and even fictional countries in her romance novels, which stretched the boundaries of the standard formulas, “according to Barbara E. Kemp in Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers.” (quote from Fantastic Fiction’s web page on this author.)

The group was very appreciative of the plot twists, although a couple of elements broke their suspension of disbelief, in particular, the scene where Joe has gone into the woods after the major evil henchman, and Eve blindly follows him – accompanied by Logan – when neither one of them is anywhere near as skilled as Joe, and the outcome of the scene shows what a mistake it was for them to attempt to help him. MAF members found the strongest element in this story was the character development. One member commented on how she liked the fact that even a secondary character who didn’t play a large part of the story, had some depth to him. We all liked the way Johansen hinted at the troubled past that both Eve and her mother endured and how – through Bonnie’s existence and tragedy – the two women establish a strong, and loving relationship.

We are also highly curious as to who Bonnie’s father was, and debated how come Joe held back his feelings for Eve and married Diane. We’re hoping that there’s more detail about this piece of Joe’s and Eve’s backgrounds in the next story. We also agreed that Eve needs some form of counseling to help her to break free from her obsession with Bonnie and to develop a life beyond her work. It becomes clear by the end that there are a couple of potential sources for her to establish a romantic relationship. Again, there were strong feelings expressed about whether or not Eve should do (or will do) more with Logan in Tahiti than bask on the beach!  The scene in the hospital where Joe and Logan face-off in a very, territory-staking way, annoyed one member and we all agreed that Eve would have had words with both of them, had she been party to the conversation.

In group voting at the end of the discussion, all members were glad they had read this book, and all plan to read at least one more book in the series. Other handouts at the discussion will be made available in the Johansen “Author Docket” currently under construction. Patti will send out a post when it is live on this  blog!

Monday, October 21, 2013 from 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM (CDT). Click graphic for link to tickets (required).

Monday, October 21, 2013 from 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM (CDT). Click graphic for link to tickets (required).

Nordic Noir genre graphic

Click on the graphic to learn more about the Nordic Noir mystery sub-genre.

Here’s a rare opportunity to get to hear and meet one of the stars of the whole “Nordic Noir” movement in mystery: Jo Nesbø. He will be appearing at Printers Row in Chicago on Monday, October 21st from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. As stated above, you can click the graphic of Nesbo and his books to go to the link for getting tickets to this event. The author will be talking about his latest book, Police, the 10th book in his Harry Hole series (that also includes best-sellers such as Nemesis, The Snowman, and The Leopard.)

Jo Nesbø (pronounced [ˈju ˈnɛsbø]; born 29 March 1960) is an Glass Key award winning Norwegian author and musician. As of September 2008 more than 1.5 million copies of his novels have been sold in Norway, and his work has been translated into over 40 languages, selling over 9 million copies (2013). Nesbø is primarily known for his crime novels about Inspector Harry Hole, but he is also the main vocalist and songwriter for the Norwegian rock band Di Derre. In 2007 Nesbø also released his first children’s book, Doktor Proktors prumpepulver (English translation: Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder). The 2011 film Headhunters is based on Nesbø’s novel Hodejegerne (The Headhunters). — excerpted from Wikipedia

The following is a current list of Jo Nesbø’s books in the Harry Hole series. Lisle Library has all of them! (With Police and Cockroaches on order)

Harry Hole
1. The Bat
2. Cockroaches (coming out in U.S. in Feb. 2014)
3. The Redbreast
4. Nemesis
5. The Devil’s Star
6. The Redeemer
7. The Snowman
8. The Leopard
9. Phantom
10. Police

Hound of the Baskerville Cover with Daniel Stashower & Conan Doyle

There will be more on our meeting last week on The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but for now we want to offer up sincere praise and thanks to author Daniel Stashower. We now know why your biography on Doyle (Teller of Tales: the Life of Arthur Conan Doyle) is an Edgar winner! BTW Daniel — it went out to one of our attendees right after the program!


We are off to a fine start on following The Hound as he travels next to be read by the library’s fiction discussion group, Fixed on Fiction, who’ll be discussing it on Oct. 10th @ 7:00 p.m.  The book’s afoot! (Well, sort of… – Enjoy anyway!)

Bits From Bouchercon 2013!

The World Crime Convention – better known to convention fans as the Bouchercon, was recently held in Albany, New York. This convention is for fans of all the sub-genres of mystery, be they thriller, police procedural, traditional, oriented! I was there to scope out participants whose books were picked for our 2014 mystery discussion books – and to see who might be interested – and interesting! — to consider when our planning meeting comes up next year.  I’m thrilled to share that Chris Pavone was there, and has agreed to call-in and join our discussion of his book The ExPats in 2014!   Chris had some great news of his own at this Bouchercon – he won the Anthony award for Best First Novel for The ExPats !

In terms of seeing favorite authors & friends, I got to spend time chatting with Lisle Library friend Zoe Sharp, and found out that she has a stand-alone that’s just out recently (and that we are ordering!) It is called The Blood Whisperer and features, as quoted from Amazon “the uncanny abilities of London crime-scene specialist Kelly Jacks” with a plot that promises to be typical Zoe: un-put-downable!

The Blood Whisperer by Zoe Sharp

The tag line’s a bit hard to read: “They took everything she had, but not everything she was.” – Makes me want to read it!

Author Zoe Sharp

One of the most fun panels at this year’s Bouchercon featured best buddies: Rhys Bowen, Deborah Crombie, and Louise Penny allowing us all to be a fly on the wall to their very funny, and thoughtful conversation amongst themselves. You can get an idea of the mischief they got up to by looking closely at the picture

I took before the panel started. They were having a bit of fun with just who is who. (So the mystery will be solved for you, they are (from left to right): Rhys Bowen, Debbie Crombie, and Louise Penny. As with Chris Pavone, Louise also got wonderful news at the Anthony awards – she won Best Novel for The Beautiful Mystery

(Note: I’ll have all the Anthony award nominees & winners up under our “Awards” tab some time this week. I’ll comment here when it’s done.)

The last quick news I have to share with you is that I was successful not only in adding W is for Wasted to my Kinsey Milhone collection, but getting a picture taken with the wonderful Sue Grafton who was Bouchercon 2013’s Lifetime Achievement Award winner. What a way to end a con! Sue Grafton and Murder Among Friends moderator, Patti Ruocco