Titan £7.99 Order for £7.59 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the D’Urbervilles By Kim Newman
Tessa Jowell, when Culture Secretary, responded to an attempt to save Arthur Conan Doyle's house, Undershaw, by underplaying the importance of the novelist and his creation Sherlock Holmes to British culture. Her remarks seemed particularly philistine and wrong-headed given that Holmes is one of the most instantly recognisable characters in fiction.
Then there is his nemesis, Professor James Moriarty, the ultimate criminal genius, whose line of descendants stretches to Hannibal Lecter and beyond. Moriarty's creator spent surprisingly little time on him, and he makes few appearances in the Holmes canon. The reason for his imperishable reputation may be due to the number of people who have taken up the character, both in films and on the printed page. The novelist John Gardner wrote a series of enjoyable Moriarty pastiches, but it has taken Kim Newman to do something really audacious with the master criminal.
Newman's conduit for a new approach is the sexually decadent, self-regarding journal of Moriarty's lieutenant, Colonel Sebastian Moran – a figure who appears even fewer times in Conan Doyle. The notion of reinventing Moriarty and Moran as malign doppelgängers of Holmes and Watson may have been explored before, but not with the firecracker exuberance that Newman brings to it.
The masterstroke here is making the narrator a libidinous scoundrel à la George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman. This allows us to see the bloodless, asexual Moriarty through the eyes of his boastful, amoral lieutenant. He sees Moriarty as a solitary masturbator, which for Moran (always on the lookout for female conquests) is a contemptible activity.
Newman's other entertaining conceit is the series of spins on other writers, including H G Wells and (notably) Thomas Hardy, whose Wessex Moran dismisses as "one of the shit-holes of the world", where a corrupt, phoney scion of the D'Urberville family is pestered by a throat-ripping hound. Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the D'Urbervilles is essentially a collection of lively linked tales rather than an organically conceived novel – but it should be remembered that Conan Doyle did his best work in his short stories.
Arts & Ents blogs
Thirteen-year-old Conor awakes in bed one night to discover that the yew tree outside his house has ...
It’s hard not to feel sorry for doe-eyed Andy. He spends months pining after Louise, has huge nostr...
Fragility of life looms large over an episode that closes with the scarring on Julie's stomach. Whil...
‘Hello, NME? I’d like to complain about your Tom Odell review. Why? I’m his dad’
Kan you believe it? Kim Kardashian and Kanye West reportedly name baby daughter 'Kaidance Donda'
American studio claims it designed London 2012's Olympic cauldron
Tributes pour in for Sopranos star James Gandolfini after heart attack death
Anger Management? Charlie Sheen fires Selma Blair as his onscreen therapist with expletive-filled text
- 1 Breaking the Silence: In the reality of occupation, there are no Palestinian civilians – only potential terrorists
- 2 Mike Ashley wants blood after last season's trauma at Newcastle - and it won't stop with Derek Llambias
- 3 Richard Nieuwenhuizen death: Six teenagers and 50-year-old father convicted of manslaughter in shocking case of referee killed over a game of football
- 4 Exclusive: Newcastle's star talent-spotter on brink as Joe Kinnear sparks walkout
- 5 Vast methane 'plumes' seen in Arctic ocean as sea ice retreats