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Moriarty, by John Gardner -- A Book Review

Updated on October 22, 2015

Sherlock Holmes was known for many years as an unstoppable detective, almost supernaturally intelligent who could solve any case. However, every great protagonist needs an equally great antagonist. In the case of Holmes, that antagonist was the devious Professor James Moriarty.

Moriarty is back. It was thought that he died in a momentous fight with his arch-rival, Holmes, but in fact he merely went into hiding for a while. Moriarty travelled abroad, finally returning to his "family" in London. His once-great criminal empire has crumbled under the machinations of "Idle Jack" Idell, a crime boss whose primary trade is in children for prostitution. Idell managed to convince many of Moriarty's family that he was not coming back, causing a shift in loyalties for many. In the midst of piecing his massive crime family back together, Moriarty is faced with the daunting task of rooting out a spy in his inner circle. All signs indicate that the spy is one of his "Praetorian guard" made up of four extremely dangerous men whom Moriarty has laid his trust.

When the stories were first released, readers of Sherlock Holmes did not want to accept that this ingenious hero was, in fact, fiction. Holmes' death caused such an uproar that he was, under unlikely circumstances, resurrected. Along with this same theme, Gardner presents his story as a "non-fiction" chronicling of the life of Professor Moriarty based on the professor's diaries. The book is complete with in-text notes which serve to resolve the contradictions in the original Sherlock Holmes stories, as well as explain away differences between those stories and the one in this book.

Moriarty is the third in a proposed five books, preceded by The Return of Moriarty and The Revenge of Moriarty. This is the first of these books I've read, having happened upon it in a recent library trip. It seemed to do well as a standalone book, but I have heard that Moriarty veers from the path of the previous books and that there are considerable conflicts between the story of the first two and this third.

Since I haven't read those other two, I can't say anything personally about the continuity, though I can offer my commentary about the book itself. I went into this story with little expectation, having never heard of the author before, though I had hoped for an interesting supplement to the Holmes stories I enjoyed so much in my younger years.

For most, this book will likely not stand up to expectation. The first 50-75 pages were rough, difficult to follow and seemed thrown haphazardly together. Dialog between the characters seemed stilted and stereotypical. As I read on, I did get into the story a little better even though it started so slowly. The bulk of the book was easy to read and progressed fairly steadily, except as mentioned below.

The story itself was decent, though will undoubtedly raise the hackles of some die-hard Holmesians for its varied take on the story. The author does explain away much of this variation as Moriarty's "personal bias" in his diaries or in a variety of other ways. What bothered me most about the story is that there just isn't a whole lot there. It starts slow, remains a simple plot throughout, and then wraps up quickly in the last 40 pages.

Overall, this is not a bad book for a bit of empty-headed reading on a lazy weekend. If you're looking for any kind of literary stimulation, thrills or suspense, or any other such perks of reading, you may be disappointed. I enjoyed this book enough to check the library for the other two books to see if I can piece together more of the story that I may have missed, though will likely not pursue them if the library doesn't have them. My measure of a good book is one that makes me feel, this book did bring a tear to my eye once but otherwise really didn't do anything for me. It's not bad, but certainly far from a gem.


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