Warning: While I try to avoid any outright spoilers, you might want to skip this review if you are planning on reading this novel. Summary: I found Moriarty entertaining enough, but compared to the fabulous House of Silk, it’s downright disappointing. Kind of like how Cars would be a decent enough animated movie from any other studio, but from the studio that created Toy Story, WALL-E, and The Incredibles, you’re like “Lame, Pixar.”
Now, the review:
I’m sitting in a little Japanese restaurant eating my lunch, reading the (for me) much-anticipated Moriarty, and I’m grinning from ear to ear. I loved Anthony Horowitz’s House of Silk so much that it made my top three of 2019. And Chapter 1 does not disappoint. Narrated by one Frederick Chase, a senior investigator for Pinkerton Detective Agency, the novel begins with Chase describing the events of “The Final Problem,” the famous story by Arthur Conan Doyle where Holmes and Moriarty encounter each other for the last time at Reichenbach Falls. Chase begins by pulling apart the description of events that Watson sets down in the story, and how unlikely some of the facts around the case seem. In a passage that I particularly enjoyed (the one that made me grin), Chase recounts of Holmes, “He has been attacked no fewer than three times in the space of just one morning. He has come within an inch of being crushed by a two-horse van that rushes past him on Welbeck Street; he has almost been hit by a brick that falls or is thrown from a roof on Vere Street – and, right outside Watson’s front door, he finds himself attacked by some good fellow who’s been waiting with a bludgeon. Does he have any choice but to flee? Well, yes. There are so many other choices available to him that I have to wonder what exactly was in Mr. Holmes’s mind.”
The reason I love this passage so much is that it affectionately calls out Doyle’s sloppy writing while obviously being a fan of the Sherlock Holmes canon, something to which all Doyle fans can relate. We love his creation to the ends of the earth, in spite of Doyle’s literary laziness. I am smiling because Horowitz promises to offer explanations for these inconsistencies while adding another entertaining chapter to the Holmes tapestry.
Unfortunately, Moriarty doesn’t fulfill that promise. It’s entertaining enough, I suppose; I turned pages. But it doesn’t do justice to Sherlock Holmes, and I wish Horowitz had chosen to simply write this as an original mystery rather than tying it to Doyle’s work. The story proper begins with Chase and Scotland Yard detective Athelney Jones standing over the body of Professor Moriarty, recovered from his plunge over Reichenbach Falls. Chase has come to Europe from New York to track down a criminal mastermind, one Clarence Devereux, who is angling to take over Moriarty’s crime network. Chase has personal reasons for wanting to catch Devereux: apparently that criminal was responsible for the execution-style death of a fellow Pinkerton detective. Jones, we learn, had a love-hate relationship with Holmes. He admired the consulting detective and obsessively followed his cases; nevertheless, he is hurt and angry by Watson’s depiction of Jones and Scotland Yard in his tales. Jones seems pretty sharp, certainly not the bumbling, clueless detective that Watson was so fond of portraying. Chase, on the other hand, seems a bit slow on the uptake to me at points.
The issue with this novel is that the final reveal isn’t terribly shocking. I like mysteries because I like to be fooled, to be completely blindsided and say, “I’m pretty intelligent, how could it be the one individual I didn’t suspect?” I’m not saying I outright guessed the solution, but it had certainly crossed my mind. The problem is Horowitz leads the reader down the garden path to believe something that I just didn’t buy. I’m reminded of the famous Holmes tenet, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” What Horowitz wants the reader to believe is simply impossible, so I didn’t fall for it. So really, this novel didn’t even hold up in terms of being one of Horowitz’s better mysteries.
Most disappointingly, Horowitz doesn’t offer explanations for many of the inconsistencies he pointed out in Chapter 1. That passage about Holmes fleeing? The one I enjoyed so much? Holmes’s behavior is never explained. Now, it’s fair to say that nobody could really see into the mind of Sherlock Holmes, but why point out the shortcomings of Doyle’s writing if you aren’t going to address them? And why is the Doyle Estate okay with that (this book being sanctioned by the Doyle Estate, just as House of Silk was). Additionally, I should point out for my editor friends, I caught two instances in which Horowitz says “Chase” when I’m pretty sure he means “Athelney” (or vice versa). Getting character names right is fairly important in most novels; it’s critical in mysteries. Either the editors were rushed, or they didn’t understand the story.
I still love Anthony Horowitz. Not every novel can be a big winner, and I didn’t hate this one. I just hope he puts his energies into something else and doesn’t publish three Cars sequels.