Sherlock Holmes is the detective who cannot die. Arthur Conan Doyle tried, vainly to kill Holmes off in 1893. Wanting to concentrate on his historical novels, Conan Doyle famously killed Holmes and his arch nemesis Moriarty, sending them both plunging into Switzerland’s Reichenbach Falls. But it couldn’t last. Public pressure led to Conan Doyle penning The Hound of the Baskervilles, set before Holmes’ death. Then, later a story that revealed that Holmes had, in fact faked his death at the Falls, setting the scene for many more years of Holmes stories. Over a hundred and twenty five years since he first appeared in print, Holmes and his erstwhile companion Watson are still going strong. You don’t have to go far in 2014 to find the two small screen and one big screen incarnation of the world’s foremost consulting detective.
And then there is Anthony Horowitz, the creator of both Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War, who, in 2011 was commissioned by the Conan Doyle Estate to write a new Sherlock Holmes novel. House of Silk was a well received Conan Doyle replica that fed the seemingly insatiable Holmes fan base. Now Horowitz returns with Moriarty, in which Holmes appears only in an extra Conan Doyle–style short story at the end. The book itself focuses on the period just following the Reichenbach Falls and the potential criminal vacuum that opens in London as a result of both Moriarty and Holmes’ demise.
Moriarty is set up very much in the style of a Sherlock Holmes story. It is narrated by Frederick Chase, a Pinkerton detective on the trail of an American criminal mastermind is somehow in league Moriarty. He befriends Scotland Yard man Athelney Jones, a Sherlock Holmes devotee (and character from an earlier Holmes novel), whose greatest wish is to emulate the great man. Their investigation takes them from Switzerland to London where a new, violent criminal enterprise led by the shadowy Deveroux, is rising. While their relationship is more equal than Holmes and Watson, Chase’s narrative follows very much in the tradition established by Conan Doyle.
There is plenty of fan service here. References to Sherlock Holmes esoteric research, a visit to Baker Street, a scene in which a bunch of Scotland Yard policemen sit around reminiscing about their favourite Holmes cases, an early clue that is in the form an encoded excerpt from a Sherlock Holmes novel. So much so that you can imagine Horowitz has a room much like that owned by Athelney Jones, packed wall-to-wall with Holmesian paraphernalia. But in comparison to this rich source material, the Jones and Chase investigation feels like Sherlock-lite. This feeling only grows as the plot wears on and is practically confirmed by the conclusion. You feel that Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson would have made much shorter and more enjoyable work of this investigation.