Review: Anthony Horowitz’s ‘Moriarty’

Moriarty. Anthony Horowitz. Harper. 304 pages. $26.99.
Moriarty. Anthony Horowitz. Harper. 304 pages. $26.99.

Meet the new Athelney Jones. Version 2.0. He’s a Scotland Yard inspector who appeared in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four and cluelessly arrested the wrong man on suspicion of murder, only to be humiliated when Holmes solved the mystery with his usual theatrical flair.

England’s celebrated consulting detective is nowhere to be found in Anthony Horowitz’s fiendishly clever new thriller Moriarty. But Athelney Jones has returned, and he is a changed man.

He has read all of Dr. Watson’s Strand Magazine stories. He has studied Holmes’ scientific monographs about bloodstains, codes and tobacco ash. He has met with inspectors who worked alongside the great detective and picked their brains for insights.

Holmes and the notorious Professor Moriarty have just met their deaths at the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. (Readers who are familiar with the canon know that Holmes merely faked his demise.) There’s also a new villain who has arrived from America, one far more ruthless than Moriarty. He intends to take over as London’s ultimate crime boss. Jones becomes convinced it is his duty, with an assist from Frederick Chase, plodding Pinkerton detective and the book’s narrator, to thwart this new scoundrel.

Thus begins a rollicking adventure with Jones breathlessly racing about London as he tries to solve a horrific murder case while fulfilling his fantasy of playing Sherlock Holmes. To his credit, he is quite brilliant. But success has gone to his head. He has adopted Holmes’ infuriating tactic of withholding important information from colleagues until it’s time to make the big, showboating reveal.

Horowitz, a prolific English novelist and television writer, is the author of 2011’s The House of Silk, which his publisher claims is the first work to get the seal of approval from the Conan Doyle estate. Horowitz is currently writing the next official James Bond/007 thriller.

In true Conan Doyle tradition, he hides all the clues skillfully in plain sight in Moriarty, but readers will sail right past them until a shocking twist forces them to replay the entire sequence of events in their heads.

But there’s more to Moriarty than just ingenious puzzle plotting. Horowitz also does a masterful job re-creating Holmes’ London. And he has given us wonderfully rich characters in Jones, Jones’ wife, Elspeth (who worries that Athelney is in over his head), and Chase (there’s more to him than he lets on).

Readers don’t have to have read all the Conan Doyle works to enjoy Moriarty. But familiarity with the canon — particularly The Sign of Four, The Red-Headed League (in which Holmes stymied a bank robbery), The Final Problem (in which Holmes and Moriarty fought) and The Empty House (in which Holmes explains how and why he faked his death) — wouldn’t hurt.

Here’s hoping that Horowitz has another Holmesian story just as devious for us in the future.

David Martindale reviewed this book for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.