The Return of Moriarty
Considering the current popularity in historical fiction of revisiting classic stories and characters, the decision to reprint John Gardner’s 1974 novel about Sherlock Holmes’ shadowy nemesis, Professor James Moriarty, couldn’t be more timely. However, readers who are seeking (or avoiding) another Sherlock Holmes adventure are in for a shock. Holmes and Watson are only mentioned in passing – and not in a very flattering light – mostly in the author’s extensive footnotes and “corrections” of Watson’s journals. This is Moriarty’s story, and what a story it is.
Returning from exile following the events at the Reichenbach Falls, Moriarty takes stock of the world he left behind and prepares to resume his place on the throne of the London underworld. At his service is an ensemble cast of characters from all walks of Victorian life: businessmen, soldiers, servants, gamblers, prostitutes, thieves, victims. Through them, the squalid underbelly of 1890s London is brought to vivid life: a cruel and treacherous world of honor among thieves, plots within plots, and scenes of brutality not for the faint of heart. (Worthy of note are the surprisingly strong female characters, not usually found in stories of this genre.) At the center of it all is Moriarty, a chillingly magnetic anti-hero, consolidating his power with patient, deadly efficiency. The explanation of Reichenbach is the story’s weakest point, but Moriarty’s origins and motivations are wonderfully done. This is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle meets Mario Puzo meets spy-thriller noir. The Return of Moriarty was the first volume of a trilogy, with sequels released in 1975 and 2008. I look forward to reading the other two installments.