Though I have not read or watched everything the Sherlock world has to offer, I am fond of smart people who are good at their job, so the consulting detective’s universe is interesting to me. Between those characters and enjoying Anthony Horowitz’s work on Foyle’s War, I wanted to like Moriarty a lot more than I did.
Taking place shortly after Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty’s “deaths” at Reichenbach Falls, private detective Agent Frederick Chase arrives from New York and soon meets up with Scotland Yard Inspector Altheney Jones. Jones was previously mentioned in the Conan Doyle story “The Sign of Four” as a side character, but here he is center stage. Presented through the perspective of Chase, the two easily fall into a Holmes-Watson working relationship. Jones has studied Holmes’ methods intensively, and now he’s itching to show off those skills.
Chase says he is there to investigate a new criminal “mastermind,” Clarence Devereux, who appeared to have made contact with Moriarty before his death. Starting from a coded letter, he and Jones begin in Switzerland, but quickly travel back to London. Soon, the death of a Devereux associate and his family has them wondering if Moriarty and Devereux were actually jockeying for power.
“Could Moriarty have done this?” I asked.
“Moriarty is dead.”
“He may have associates, fellow criminals, members of his gang. You saw the way Lavelle was killed, Inspector Jones. The way I see it, it’s nothing less than a message, written in blood, perhaps sent as a warning.”
Jones thought for a moment. “You told me that Moriarty and Devereux planned to meet, to create a criminal association …”
“But they never did meet. We know that from the coded message we found in Meiringen. As far as we can tell, they had no business together, so why would one wish to kill the other?”
“Perhaps Devereux had something to do with what happened at Reichenbach Falls.”
Jones shook his head wearily. “At the moment, nothing makes sense. I need time to reflect and clear my thoughts. But that will not happen here. For now, we must search the house and see what secrets, if any, the various rooms may reveal.”
Inspectors Lestrade and Gregson are peripherally involved in the case as well, though they are unsure that Devereux exists, and they are of mixed feelings about no longer having Sherlock Holmes’ assistance. As far as Agent Chase goes, they begrudgingly accept his help. They want to investigate the Lavelle murders, and they do not want any gang to have as much reach as Moriarty did.
Written much in the style of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories, Horowitz does not modernize the time in which the book takes place. We still have carriages as transport, disguises used as investigation methods, and oft-ignored science (unless, of course, Jones utilizes it). Chase’s voice alternates between confident and reserved. When talking about his background, he’s a bit of a humble-braggart, but once they get into the case, he is mainly content to ask questions and express astonishment. Everyone else does most of the talking, and honestly, most of the work.
The why of this backseat narrative is only explained at the very end, which I will not spoil except to say the following: early on in the book, I had an inkling that the story would shake out a certain way, but I immediately dismissed it because it seemed too obvious. It was a “twist” that had been overdone in so many mysteries before that I thought, Well, this must be something different. Has to be.
No. There was no twisting the twist. Maybe that was the point — to truly have an 1800s-era resolution that would have been more surprising at the time — but instead I felt somewhat cheated. We have about 250 pages of a decent mystery, and then the last thirty pages or so had me going, Really? Really?! (a la Seth and Amy).
I’m sure the argument could be made that this is some sort of meta-commentary on the nature of Sherlock stories in general, but I’m not educated enough on the subject to make it. Or maybe it’s just a shite twist; I don’t know. Others might find Moriarty more satisfying than I did, but in the end, it just wasn’t for me.
Full Disclosure: HarperCollins sent me an advanced review copy, so my pull quote may differ slightly from the finished version. I thank them for the gesture, and I will continue to be fair with my reviews.