I really love Sherlock Holmes. I’ve read all of the original stories, several literary adaptations, and regularly watch not only the BBC but also the American television show, both of which are great (gonna talk smack about Elementary? Come at me, bro!). Last year I had the privilege of teaching an entire class on Holmes and Holmes adaptations. Sherlock himself is such a fascinating character that he is the “most portrayed” character in TV or film.
So it disappointed me that I didn’t like Anthony Horowitz’s book, Moriarty, more (or much at all), especially given the fact that only Horowitz’s books bear the stamp of approval from the Conan Doyle estate.
Moriarty tells the story of Frederick Chase, a Pinkerton detective from New York who arrives on the scene in Switzerland just after the famous detective and his nemesis, the titular Moriarty, have apparently fallen to their deaths at Reichenbach Falls. He comes following a clue regarding an American criminal, Clarence Deveraux, who had ties to Moriarty and who, in Moriarty’s absence, looks poised to command a crime empire just as vast and shadowy. In Switzerland, Chase meets Athelney Jones, a detective inspector from Scotland Yard who appears in Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons.” What ensues is an entirely confusing two-man search for Deveraux, which culminates in several bloody deaths and a big twist near the end of the novel.
One of the delights of Conan Doyle’s work is its voice. Even when Holmes is in a “brown study” and not actively engaged in crime-solving, the voice of Dr. Watson, the narrator, is interesting and funny, with momentary turns to the philosophical. Chase, Horowitz’s narrator, sounded like a Victorian man for the most part, but lacked the heart and charm of Dr. Watson. In an attempt to make astute observations about humanity, cleverly phrased, Chase chewed the scenery and was rather stuffy and boring (also, at one point, he inexplicably makes fun of the way a German laughs). Horowitz spends too much time describing things, and too little time letting readers in on Chase’s private thoughts and feelings. This makes more sense once the twist is revealed, but I have to wonder if this literary gambit is worthwhile, depriving us as it does of a likeable narrator.
But the biggest problem I had with Moriarty was that the search for Deveraux didn’t make sense, either in its motivation or its execution. Jones is in Switzerland investigating the disappearance/death of Moriarty and just because some American detective shows up with a half-baked clue, he’s going to drop that investigation and go full-throttle into searching for Deveraux, someone he never heard of before? It didn’t make sense. Several of his steps along the way also seemed unmotivated and forced. For instance, Jones knew ahead of time that he would lose his job if he went into the American embassy to confront Deveraux; his jurisdiction didn’t extend to the embassy, which was American soil. But he does it anyway, in a fit of pique and passion, and then bemoans losing his job after all.
The search for Deveraux makes more sense once Moriarty’s reveal occurs, but then it’s too late; I’ve already spent 200 pages reading a book where the character’s actions don’t make any sense. And since only one of the Jones/Chase duo was privy to the information revealed, it still throws suspicion on the actions of the other.
Perhaps I was prejudiced from the start. After all, this is a Holmes books absent of Holmes, which is already a challenge. While many Conan Doyle characters have cameos, notably John Clay, one of my favorite villains, the central mystery is not about Moriarty (well, at least not in the way you think). Instead, it’s all about Clarence Deveraux, an entirely new character, investigated by another entirely new character and another character who only appeared once in Conan Doyle’s oeuvre. Over halfway into reading it, I felt that it might as well have just been a mystery story divorced from the Holmes universe entirely. Why drag him into this? Just write your own story!, I thought.