Imagine the twisted evil twins of Holmes and Watson and you have the dangerous duo of Prof. James Moriarty - wily, snake- like, fiercely intelligent, unpredictable - and Colonel Sebastian 'Basher' Moran - violent,politically incorrect, debauched. Together they run London crime, owning police and criminals alike. Unravelling mysteries -- all for their own gain.
The idea behind Moriarty is as simple as it is brilliant:
Retelling The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes from the point of view of the villains, or more specifically from the p.o.v. of Professor Moriarty’s right hand man Colonel Sebastian Moran.
When down on his luck Colonel Moran arrives in London a friend directs him to the sinister Professor Moriarty who offers him a job on the spot. Moran used to be a big game hunter, now he becomes an assassin on hire. At first he thinks himself lucky, little does he know that Moriarty is no ordinary criminal, once you join his organisation there is no turning back. Blackmail, prostitution, robbery, contract killing, the diabolical mathematician has his hands in everything. He is running what could be termed a detective agency from the dark side. It is the twisted mirror image of Sherlock Holmes the consulting detective, Moriarty is a consulting criminal who helps other crooks to succeed in their business. If someone for example is planning a bank robbery he calls on the professor so he can make sure the plans will work out. Obviously Moriarty takes a hefty fee for his services. Moran might be to Moriarty what Watson is to Holmes but their relationship is radically different from what we would call a friendship or partnership. Unlike the good doctor who is a reliable ally and friend Moran fears and even despises the reptilian professor who does not tolerate failure or weakness. Not that he would have any qualms about amoral assignments though, if Moran has a conscience he is good at hiding it.
The book is made up of several tales the titles of which are bastardisations of the original Holmes stories. A Scandal in Bohemia becomes A Shambles In Belgravia; The Red Headed League - The Red Planet League. The title story The Hound Of The D’Urbervilles is obviously a very different take on The Hound Of The Baskervilles.
Irene Adler – who was “the woman” for Sherlock Holmes – is just called “the bitch” by Moriarty.
The similarities go even further: Newman even starts the book with the unearthing of a manuscript in the vault of a London bank. This turns out to be the criminal memoirs of Moran, who narrates the events, writing up Moriarty’s cases as Watson did with Holmes.
Author Kim Newman must have had a lot of fun writing this work. Newman clearly knows his classic (genre) fiction very well. The book is packed full with allusions to Victorian works. There are so many nods to other books and all kinds of fun references that it would make one’s head burst to take it all in. It is all very witty, although not for the faint of heart. Those easily offended should best stay away, since the humour here is pitch black.
As amusing as it all is after a while I began longing for characters I could actually care about. The Professor and Moran are complete bastards with no redeeming features whatsoever.
Moriarty is probably best enjoyed in small doses. There is only so much criminal excess and dastardly behaviour one can take. Fans of Alan Moore’s League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen however might enjoy this as well.