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Friday, June 19, 2015

Moriarty a Virtuoso Performance

Anthony Horowitz’s Moriarty, published late last year, is nothing like his first Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk. That’s a very good thing.

Published with a lot of hoopla in 2012, The House of Silk sold 450,000 copies in 35 countries. The Huffington Post called it “firmly rooted in the style of Doyle.” I disagree. Although the story was set in the Victoria era and narrated by Dr. Watson, it was much longer than the canonical Holmes novels and structured much differently – the plot involved two cases that converged.

More subjectively, The House of Silk just didn’t feel like the real thing.

In Moriarty, Horowitz sets himself a different task and succeeds brilliantly. This is not faux Conan Doyle. Neither Holmes nor Watson is a character, except by frequent reference. Instead of Watson, Horowitz gives us a totally new narrative voice:

“So that you know whose company you keep, let me tell you that my name is Frederick Chase, that I am a senior investigator with the Pinkerton Detective Agency in New York and that I was in Europe for the first – and possibly the last – time in my life.”

The story takes case immediately after the Reichenbach Falls incident. The narrator meets Inspector Athelney Jones in Meiringen, Switzerland, over a body battered by the Falls – and not that of Sherlock Holmes. Professor Moriarty, Jones is told, had been forging an alliance with his American counterpart, one Clarence Deveraux.

The task becomes to bring down Deveraux, who is working out of the American legation under another name.

Athelney Jones had little personality in The Sign of Four, so Horowitz was free to give him one. Jones has a wife, a six-year-old daughter, and an obsession to become as good a detective as Sherlock Holmes. He almost makes it.

In one delightful scene, a conference at Scotland Yard, seemingly every inspector in the canon shows up. Lestrade and Gregson are there, of course, but so are Alec MacDonald, Bradstreet, Lanner, Gregory, Hopkins, Patterson, and others. I’d forgotten Patterson, even though my mother was a Patterson. He was in charging of rounding up the Moriarty gang.

The criminal John Clay and his pal Archie from “The Red-Headed League” make a return appearance, up to the same old tricks. So does the square-toed boot. Have you ever noticed how often Holmes in the Canon identifies a boot print because has a square toe? (And each time he says it’s unusual. Just think about that.)

If all of this evokes the world of Sherlock Holmes – and it does – there is also much in Moriarty that is fresh and entertaining. Deveraux is a wonderfully creepy villain who kills with little remorse and yet refuses to eat meat because he empathizes with animals. He also suffers from agoraphobia, a weakness turned against him in the end.

The structure of the novel is fascinating. A plot turn worthy of Agatha Christie stuns the reader (at least this one) on page 257, at the end of a chapter. (It’s been a challenge avoiding spoilers in this review.) The story then stops like a freeze-frame in a movie for one chapter while everything that went before is explained in a new light. Then the story resumes in the final chapter, unfreezing the action, and rushes to a conclusion. It’s virtuoso performance by Anthony Horowitz that I will long remember.

If you shared my negative opinion The House of Silk, don’t let that keep you from this book. And if you liked it, you may like this one even better.     

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