Well, technically it is not a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, even though the great detective is referenced in it. Moriarty is more like an offshoot of the Conan Doyle stories, centring as it is does on the return of Professor James Moriarty from Reichenbach (see His Last Bow) and his desire to resuscitate his criminal organisation in order to bring his ‘family’ back together.
John Gardner’s refreshing take on the Holmesian world makes for compelling reading at times as he endeavours to get underneath the skin of the criminal mastermind who so nearly drove Holmes to his destruction. He imagines a complex character, troubled but determined.
Gardner’s yarn gives us his view on just how Moriarty was created and just how wide his criminal reach was, and remains as so in the timeline of the book. He treats us to a character study of the Victorian criminal and intertwines some historical fact with poetic licence to create a very real turn of the 20th century underworld.
But yet, I wasn’t bowled over. I wasn’t rushing to Amazon to get the other Moriarty books. Which is strange because this is a well written, compulsively plotted book. So why did I feel this way?
Then it hit me: I have no empathy with James Moriarty and as the lead character it was really difficult to root for him to win in his war with Jack Idle. I didn’t care. I was carried on the wave of interest in how Gardner would treat the lead character more than I was bothered about his [Moriarty’s] well being.
Put mildly, I couldn’t connect with the book’s pivotal character.
So there you have it. Moriarty is an interesting read and one most fans of Sherlock would connect with, I enjoyed reading it and am glad I did. Gardner has attempted a really brave thing by reversing the perspective one would normally have on Conan Doyle’s characters. In the end, however, Moriarty himself is a sideshow to the main event.