The game is afoot again..
I know I am not alone in my love for Holmes, those Conan Doyle stories can be enjoyed time and again I think. Such is the enduring love and fascination for Sherlock Holmes that there are now lots of authors who have written new Holmes stories, although the only ones I have read are mainly those by Laurie R King and a couple of others. Anthony Horowitz though is the only writer approved by the estate of Conan Doyle to write more. The House of Silk published in 2011 – was I believe originally going to be a one off – I had my doubts about that at the time, and so was delighted when I heard there would be a second. The House of silk of course features Holmes and Watson in their heyday investigating a case that the reader is informed was too shocking to write about until now. Moriarty is different in that it doesn’t feature Holmes or Watson – except when being referred to by other characters. When I first heard that, I confess I was disappointed, but I really shouldn’t have been, as Horowitz’s story is still firmly rooted in the world of Holmes, but he has really got creative, and the result is fairly unputdownable. Moriarty is perhaps a shade darker than the Conan Doyle stories, there is some very realistically portrayed violence – but it isn’t particularly gratuitous, and is necessary to the story.
The novel opens in Switzerland at the Reichenbach falls, as the world learns of the death of Professor James Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes. Only one body is recovered, and is identified as being that of Moriarty, he is laid out in the basement of a local church, where two men who have travelled to Switzerland join the local police in carrying out a detailed examination. These men are: Inspector Athelney Jones, from Scotland Yard, who since having being embarrassed by Holmes in previous investigations, has made a close study of his methods, and Frederick Chase from New York, an investigator with the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Inspector Jones, Holmes fans may recall, was the policeman beaten to the truth by Sherlock Holmes in the Conan Doyle story The Sign of Four.
Chase tells Inspector Jones that he was on the trail of a new gang of criminals from New York, headed up by the strange and reclusive Clarence Devereux, who Chase maintains will now seek to fill Moriarty’s place. One man has already died in London, a man Chase explains was working for Pinkerton’s, also on Devereux’s tail. Chase believes a meeting was to have taken place between Moriarty and Devereux, and a coded letter from Devereux in a sealed waterproof packet, is found on the body pulled from the falls arranging a meeting in London just days later. Jones and Chase race back to London, now on the trail of an American gang far more murderously merciless than any that the capital has seen before.
“Clarence Devereux is here in London. I am certain of it. I have heard his name mentioned and I have felt his presence.
The speaker was, by some margin, the youngest person in the room. I had noticed him sitting upright in his chair throughout the lengthy speeches, as if he could barely prevent himself from breaking in. He had fair hair, cut very short, and a keen, boyish face. He could not be more than twenty-five or twenty-six years old. ‘My name is Stanley Hopkins,’ he said, introducing himself to me. ‘And although I never had the honour of meeting Mr Sherlock Holmes, I very much wish he was still with us for I believe we face a challenge such as none of us in this room has ever encountered”
Back in London Jones and Chase are immediately embroiled in the investigation into the gruesome murders of one of Devereux’s right hand men and his household, following an aborted attempt to keep the appointment referred to in the coded letter. While Athelney Jones goes home each evening to his wife and daughter, Chase takes himself back to a poor little hotel, with just one other guest, a man Chase only ever hears coughing in the room next door, and catches sight of in the window from outside.
Despite the dangers of their investigation, the two men find time to become friends as well as allies and Chase is invited to dinner at the Jones house, where he meets Athelney Jones’s wife, who treats him with some suspicion, worried for the already fragile health of her husband. Before very long the two men are subjected to terrible violence at the hands of Devereux’s gang, an explosion rips through Scotland Yard and Athelney Jones is forced to put his own career at risk in the attempt to get at the truth, illegally gaining entry to the American legation. Naturally I don’t want to spoil this book for anyone else, so I’m not going to say too much more, but Horowitz wraps things up brilliantly in this superbly plotted mystery.
“None of them was speaking and yet I heard echoes… voices, far away and out of sight. There was the clang of steel striking steel. The complex must be vast and we were in but one secluded corner of it. I thought of shouting out, calling for help but knew it would be pointless. It would be impossible for any rescuer to tell where the sound had come from and I would surely be struck down before I could utter to words.”
In Moriarty, Anthony Horowitz has retained much of that delicious Holmsian feel, the streets of London and its many characters, dark corners and dangers that exist just beneath the surface of polite society are brilliantly recreated. As far as the plot is concerned there are some delightful twists, spectacularly unexpected, I was left gasping.