Written by Anthony Horowitz — Having experienced considerable critical and commercial success with The House of Silk, accomplished author Anthony Horowitz has returned to the world of Sherlock Holmes with his latest book. However, it might be more accurate to suggest he has entered Moriarty’s world, since this book’s narrative begins just days after Sherlock was thought to have perished at the Reichenbach Falls. Again we have a problem because Moriarty, Dr Watson led us to believe, also died in that picturesque Swiss location, and unlike Holmes, never achieved a Lazarus-like reincarnation. So Moriarty is dead, isn’t he?
The story begins with two experienced crime fighters examining a corpse fished from the river fed by the falls, just a few days after Holmes and Moriarty have had their confrontation. They are Frederick Chase, a Pinkerton detective from New York, and Inspector Athelney Jones of Scotland Yard. They deduce the body must by Moriarty’s since it clearly isn’t Holmes.
The two men have different purposes but quickly establish a common goal. Jones had come to pay the force’s respect to Holmes and, if possible, confirm Moriarty’s death. Chase was originally headed for London, but upon hearing of Moriarty’s death headed to the scene. Chase was leading a special group within Pinkerton dedicated to investigating an American criminal mastermind called Clarence Devereux who, in an uncanny parallel with Moriarty, has brought together many of America’s criminal gangs into a more effective organisation. Very little is known about the man, except that three of his most trusted lieutenants have set themselves up in London, and were trying to make contact with Moriarty.
Chase is convinced that any danger to London is far from passed. Indeed, Moriarty’s death will only leave a vacuum that the demented Devereux can quickly fill. Although they are part of rival crime-fighting organisations, Chase and Jones agree to work together chasing down leads in London.
The discovery of a secret compartment in Moriarty’s suit and a coded communiqué therein provide the pair with their first clue. Jones is a devotee of Holmes’ methods and is more cerebral than the dogged but uninspired Chase, and it is he who is able to decipher the letter. A meeting has been arranged between Moriarty and Devereux at the Café Royal in three days’ time. So they decide that Chase shall play Moriarty and Jones will watch, hidden in the crowd.
Unfortunately, Chase is rumbled when unable to produce the agreed code words, and is lucky to escape with his life. Jones, however, is able to follow Devereux’s henchman to an out of the way house which belongs to a known Devereux associate. When the pair return the following day for a raid, they discover all of its occupants murdered, and some of them were tortured in the process.
It appears Devereux is just as ruthless as his reputation suggests, having murdered his employees as soon as they come to police attention, but his next step is even worse. A bomb is left at Scotland Yard, just a few yards from Jones’ desk. The cold-blooded and indiscriminate murder of several policemen is an outrage that even Moriarty would have shied from. Their investigation takes them from the high society of the American Legation to the basements of Spitalfields Meat Market in a chase that never lets up.
Horowitz has created a thoroughly enjoyable thriller. There are plenty of references to Conan Doyle’s original canon, and to have Chase narrating the story as a Watson equivalent aside Jones’ Holmes was a particularly nice touch. It is giving nothing away to acknowledge that Moriarty does in fact appear in the story – the novel is named after the professor after all – but it would be unfair on future readers, and on the author who has so skilfully played this out, to reveal more. I read the book in just a couple of sittings, and so absorbed by it was I thanks to the author’s mastery of plot and pace, that until Moriarty was revealed, I had barely given his absence a second thought.
My only complaint, and the reason Moriarty gets four stars rather than five, is the Sherlock-shaped hole that can’t be ignored…
Moriarty is released on 23 October. Read our feature on the best of Sherlock Holmes not written by Conan Doyle here.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars