This is brilliant! Sheer brilliance from the first page to the last. If – for whatever reason – you want to skip the rest of this review, then just take away I loved this book and I insist you go off and read it.
I suppose it’s not that long ago since I read Anthony Horowitz’s Moriarty book, and – really – I am no stranger to the ancillary fiction around Sherlock Holmes. This though is the best I’ve ever encountered. Witty, clever and – even with all the borrowed characters and literary allusions – still somehow wonderfully original, Newman may have set out to write a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, but he arrived at something fantastic on his own terms.
The conceit is essentially that while Holmes and Watson are living in their rooms in Baker Street and solving crimes, elsewhere in London, Moriarty and Sebastian Moran are living together in a brothel and causing crimes. Their dynamic a twisted one of the original, with Moriarty as the hard to read genius and Moran as the narrator/chronicler. Although one who’s a lot franker about sex than Doctor Watson.
Throughout their adventures they meet other characters from Sherlock Holmes stories, most notably Irene Adler. But more than that, they meet other great characters in Victorian/Edwardian literature. There’s the cast of A PRISONER OF ZENDA, while elsewhere there’s Doctor Carnacki and Raffles. The two of them, as the title suggests, even find their way into a ghostly sequel to TESS OF THE D’URBEVILLES. Not every reference you’ll immediately get, but the book comes well stocked with footnotes – and flicking to the end to find out who’s who genuinely does up the pleasure.
The obvious antecedent to all this is George MacDonald Fraser’s FLASHMAN books, which Newman acknowledges in the afterward. Flashy, to be fair, would mostly bump into real people (although he actually did meet Sherlock Holmes and Sebastian Moran and also find himself in his own Ruritanian romance). Now I love the FLASHMAN books beyond sense and it makes me sad to think there won’t be anymore. This MORIARTY book though is as good as best of them and even though the story would seem to be finished, I’m still going to fervently hope for a second volume.
In short, I loved this.
My debut novel, THE WANNABES – which has been out of print for a little while – is now available for free. A supernatural thriller of beautiful actresses and deadly ambition in London town, it’s well worth your time. You can get your copy here!