Friday, December 19, 2014

Book Review: MORIARTY: A Novel

HARPERCOLLINS – @HarperCollins

AUTHOR: Anthony Horowitz
ISBN: 978-0-06-237718-0; hardcover (December 2014)
304pp, B&W, $26.99 U.S.

Moriarty: A Novel is a 2014 crime thriller and detective novel from Anthony Horowitz, the author of the modern Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk.  Horowitz is also known for creating the acclaimed British television series, “Foyle's War.”  In Moriarty, two men chase a mysterious figure who is determined to be the new crime lord of London.

This novel is set in the world of Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary detective, Sherlock Holmes.  The story begins (more or less) in April 1891, after Sherlock Holmes and Professor James Moriarty take their infamous plunge down the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland.  That event apparently left both men dead, or so the public believes.

Known as “the Napoleon of Crime,” Moriarty only appeared in one Sherlock Holmes story written by Arthur Conan Doyle.  This story, “The Final Problem,” was first published in Strand Magazine in December 1893.  Since this was the story that depicted the incidents around the Reichenbach Falls, it was Moriarty's first and last appearance (as far as Doyle's writing goes).

In Moriarty, two men arrive in the Swiss village of Meiringen, near the Reichenbach Falls, to view the drowned corpse of Moriarty.  One of them is Inspector Athelney Jones, a detective from Scotland Yard.  [Jones is a character originally created by Doyle and first appeared in The Sign of Four (1890), Doyle's second novel featuring Sherlock Holmes.]  The other man is Frederick Chase, an American and a senior investigator with the Pinkerton Detective Agency.

Chase tells Jones that Moriarty's death has left a convenient vacancy in London's criminal underworld.  While there is no shortage of candidates to take Moriarty's place, the one most likely to succeed is a particularly fiendish criminal mastermind from America.  He is Clarence Devereux, and Chase has... um... chased him across the Atlantic Ocean.  The problem is that, other than a few loyal lieutenants, no one knows what Devereux looks like.

Athelney Jones, who is also a devoted student of Sherlock Holmes, joins forces Chase to find a man who may be more dangerous than Moriarty.  Their investigation takes them all over Victorian London – from elegant neighborhoods to squalid districts and even into shadowy streets and lairs.  Devereux proves to be an elusive and dangerous man, and while Jones and Chase are capable men, they must also content with the fearsome reputation of Moriarty, whose shadow hangs over their investigation.

Don't turn away, dear reader.  Moriarty: A Novel is not another pastiche of Arthur Conan Doyle-written Sherlock Holmes stories – well, not entirely.  The novel starts slow, but simmers during the four chapters that set up the central mystery.  Then, the narrative explodes in Chapter 5 at Café Royal in London.  From that point, I chased this story through a series of big reveals, before contending with the shocking last third of the novel.

Yes, Moriarty is a good read.  That said, it's too clever or maybe a little too cute.  I think some of the story's surprises change the novel.  It is mostly an engrossing crime thriller; then, it becomes something that is, at best, a re-imagining of Holmes or, at worse, a pastiche of Doyle's Holmes stories.  I won't say that some surprises ruin the novel.  Rather, the novel seems to be one thing, before the author, Anthony Horowitz, changes its fundamental nature.

So, most of the novel is exceptionally entertaining.  The rest of it strikes an odd note.  Still, I want to see where Horowitz takes his ideas and concepts, so I recommend that you read this now for what may very well come later.  Fans of Sherlock Holmes and of Victorian mysteries will want to find Moriarty: A Novel.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux

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