Saturday, February 18, 2012

Review: Professor Moriarty and the Hound of the D'Urbervilles

From the back cover: "Imagine the twisted evil twins of Holmes and Watson
and you have the dangerous duo of Professor James Moriarty- wily, snake-like,
fiercely intelligent, terrifyingly unpredictable- and Sebastian 'Basher' Moran-
violent, politically incorrect, debauched. Together they own London crime,
owning police and criminals alike."

If The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes are well thumbed in your library, you may find it interesting to puruse this collection of the adventures of Professor James Moriarty as told by his right hand, Sebastian Moran.
From their Conduit Street rooms, Moriarty runs a crime syndicate that encompasses all of London and has international connections as well. Moriarty arranges the mathematical crimes and Moran is his trusted gun hand, back from military service after nearly being clawed to death by a tiger which he then killed. The two men have a career of the most creative sort of crimes; from making the mistake of taking Irene Adler as a client, to a most delicious revenge against one of the Prof's former pupils, to the title story which chronicles their own investigation into a cursed family.
Holmes and Watson are boy scouts, comparatively. Moran and Moriarty are vicious, misogynistic, and anarchic, but immensely entertaining. Occasionally crude, but definitely colorful, Moran as our narrator ingratiates himself and by the end of his story is actually almost a sympathetic figure.
The book is divided into seven tales, some of which are stronger than others. "The Red Planet League" stands out as especially clever and humorous. After "The Hound of the D'Urbervilles" story arrives in the middle of the book, there is a slight dip in the story. Perhaps it's because the initial naughty pleasure of the insane concept has waned, or perhaps because we want to see the stakes raised more. However, the final story, "The Problem of the Final Adventure" is worth hanging on for. The raucous tone of the opening tales is subdued, but here's where we see some of that character development, the raising of stakes, and a surprising bit of pathos from our narrator.
Fans of the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle will see plenty of references and parodies from his Holmes tales throughout the novel, as well as some little digs at Doyle's continuity problems (Moran explains that all three Moriarty brothers are named James because their parents liked the name so much). No literature is safe, however. The title story concerns the D'Urberville line, yes, Tom Hardy's D'Urbervilles. Little passing references are also made to Poe's mysteries, Leroux's Phantom of the Opera, and even a nod to H.G. Wells. End notes, some more sarcastic than others will direct you to some of the allusions you may miss.
The treatment of Holmes in the story is a little odd. He makes very little appearance, though of course in the story of Holmes' adventures, neither does Moriarty. Implied off-stage tinkering serves as all the back story for their relationship in both accounts. Moriarty's view of Holmes is so very different than the view an affectionate audience has, that it's a little unsettling. Perhaps author Kim Newman intended it to be. Moran fiercely insists that Holmes was not Moriarty's arch enemy, but another slippery criminal trying to take Moriarty's place, Holmes was just bad timing, the last nail in the coffin of their crumbling criminal empire.
If you love the various incarnations of Moriarty and enjoy a bizarre romp through literature and crime, you should definitely give this book a try. Are the scenarios totally improbable? Yes. Are some stories less gripping than other? Yes. It still may be worth your time though. Sometimes the absurdity really is the point. Your pastiche collection won't be complete without this oddity.

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