Kim Newman's Professor Moriarty a Crime to Miss
Publication Date: October 4, 2011
Publisher: Titan Books
· Kim Newman
Book Review: Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the D'Urbervilles
by R.J. Carter
Published: April 20, 2012
Kim Newman delivers an engrossing, intriguing look behind the scenes of one of literatures most enduring villains -- cleverly (and logically) utilizing the format used by Dr. John Watson to relate the adventures of Moriarty's detective nemesis. Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the D'Urbervilles is presented as a fictitious "found" manuscript (a storytelling device I just happen to be rather fond of) authored by Moriarty's right-hand man, Colonel Sebastian "Basher" Moran. Moran has adopted Watson's method of storytelling, perhaps out of jealousy, to detail how he came to be in the employ of the Napoleon of Crime, and what adventures they had that Holmes was either unaware of or chose not to involve himself.
Opening with "A Volume in Vermilion," the reader is introduced to Moriarty through the eyes of Moran, as he recounts his recruitment by the Professor to head up a division of his enterprise -- the division involved with murder. Moran, a gambler with debts, a bad temper, and a devastating propensity for violence has been trained to be a crack shot marksman by the British military, making him an excellent candidate for Moriarty, who makes his headquarters above a brothel on Conduit Street where he raises wasps as a hobby. With this initial story, we follow Moran through his first job for the company, and also learn why he decided to start keeping a written account.With "A Shambles in Belgravia," other characters from Holmesian lore start to make their appearance. To Holmes, she was always "the woman." To Moriarty, she was ever "that bitch!" The actress Irene Adler proves capable of playing both detective and criminal mastermind for fools when she enlists Moriarty's assistance in a matter of politics that ultimately works to her own financial benefit. The story also introduces another parallel to the Watson accounts. Where Holmes had the Baker Street Irregulars, Moriarty employed the Conduit Street Comanche, street urchins (and one little person who passes for a young girl) who gladly raise a ruckus and create a distraction for the perfidious Professor.
"The Red Planet League" was particularly enjoyable, as it plays up to Moriarty's non-criminal profession. Having gained no small recognition for his published work on calculating asteroid trajectories (a work even Holmes himself had to admit admiration), Moriarty is made a laughingstock when a young protege of his is promoted to the office of Astronomer Royal -- and then sets about disproving Moriarty's treatise, picking it apart bit by bit with sarcasm in front of an audience of Moriarty's so-called peers. With some help from the unnamed "Lord of Strange Deaths" who operates out of Limehouse, Moriarty sets about to strip the upstart of his credentials and respect -- by allowing him to become convinced of life on Mars -- a race bent on invading Earth! Readers of Victoriana will doubtless recognize elements from the works of H.G. Wells -- "The Crystal Egg" and "War of the Worlds" -- as the author himself makes an unnamed appearance.
You may have noticed there's a certain twist to the title of each story. Yes, they come quite close to story titles used by Watson in recounting Holmes' own adventures. Moran's plagiaristic laziness (and Newman's cleverness) are responsible for this particular bit of literary homage. One shouldn't expect the titles to lead into a different version of the stories from which they take their origin...
...except at the end. "The Problem of the Final Adventure" is a novella length story (as are most of the chapters -- "The Hound of the D'Urbervilles," "The Adventure of the Six Maledictions," and "The Greek Invertebrate") bringing together many criminal figures -- the Limehouse doctor, an American serial killer, Raffles and Bunny, Irene Adler, and a few others -- for the Professor to deliver the devastating news that crime, as they know it, is on the way out, thanks to advances in the forensic sciences making detection easier. What makes this a fitting capstone to the series of criminal exploits, however, is that it culminates with a certain confrontation with a certain detective at Reichenbach Falls, where we learn what really happened.
Titan Books has an absolute gem on their hands with this book, and fans of classic Holmes adventures do themselves a disservice by passing it over. In fact, missing out on it would be a crime.