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One of my all time favourite things is the Sherlock Holmes books by Arthur Conan Doyle, ACC wrote 46 short stories and four novel length tales about the great detective. I've read every one and love them all, Sherlock holmes as a brand is of course huge and aspects of the detectives life has been taken on by other writers and expanded upon. So we've had books on the younger Sherlock and books on Sherlocks son, books on Mycroft Holmes and some on the further adventures of the great detective. This book uses Holmes' great adversary Moriarty as the main character.
Professor Moriarty is Holmes' great adversary, invented by Conan Doyle towards the end of the casebook of Sherlock Holmes where the author decided to create an advesary of Holmes with wits and intelligence level with own. Moriarty is Holmes opposite in that he uses his intelligence nad skills for ill rather than for societies good, though in the novels Holmes does have a rather carte blanche approach to the law and criminality, for instance he forgives the man who steals the blue carbuncle and doesn't call in the police.
So Moriarty moves from the shadows in the Casebook to being a central character in the memoirs, this ends with the famous meeting between the two at the Reichenbach falls in the Final Solution.
Of course as far as Conan Doyle is concerned Morarty dies at the falls but of course in this book he's very much alive and has turned from the villain of the piece to a more benign gentlemen thief.
The book moves the story forward some years and explains the survival of Moriarty, as this Moriarty being a different Moriarty then the one in the sherlock holmes novels. In this novel, this is Professor James Moriarty younger brother of the older Moriarty who did indeed die at the Rassenbach falls, the younger moriarty is the third brother all called James and is also brilliant and flawed like his older brothers. In this novel, rather than a single criminal he's the head of a crime syndicate rather in the style of Don Corleone or Al Capone.
However, in this novel Moriarty is being threatened not by the police but the actions of another more vigourous younger criminal Jack Idell. So Moriarty becomes in some way the hero of the novel, he is cast as the last of the great victorian thieves rather than the new brasher Edwardian thugs.
The novel in a strange, it almost moralises Moriarty type of crime, in this he's portrayed as the gentlemen thief only taking whats needed and largely praying on the more affluent members of the population. However, here he's shocked by the actions of Jack Idell who throwing off the gentlemen tag is simply running an extortion racket.
The novel uses london as a backdrop and explores the seedier side of the city, in it we are invited to look at the poverty, debauched and unpleasant side of the great city. The story takes us through the cities pubs, variety halls and chop houses, the backdrop is the setting for the dispute between the more urbane Moriarty and the brutal Idell.
Does it work?
Well the book is stilted and jumpy at times, it tends to purch from one scene to another in a rather rapid pace at times and sometimes the storyline charges along when it could have done with a moment of clarity for the reader. In some ways the author should be praised for giving us a little more on a character which we know little other than his meeting with Holmes at the Falls, but it doesn't quite engage the reader and ultimatly is a tough read.
John Gardner is best known for reviving James Bond in the early eighties, his novels are nearly always murder/thrillers. He died in 2007 and this novel was published post-humously.