Why restrict yourself to one clever idea – the Holmes stories written from the perspective of Moriarty’s Watson? – when two – mixing in themes characters and plots from 19th Century fiction – will be twice the fun? Well, perhaps on reflection the whole is less than the sum of the parts, if I can use my second cliché this early in the review. There are some problems with this approach. Let’s start with Colonel “Basher” Moran, the character Newman creates to act as Moriarty’s second in charge and his chronicler. Moran is a nasty piece of work, and while the author tries to give him all the roguish charm at his disposal, it is still impossible to like Moran, let alone feel any sympathy for him. Perhaps at the end of the novel, when effectively abandoned by Moriarty he takes his revenge in a clever twist, one is twinged, but by then it’s a bit too late. Only in top class writing can we like mass murderers like Moran – here he is drawn as a cartoonish figure to help avoid any natural repulsion from his killing, whoring, and generally dissolute behaviour.

Secondly, in the Conan Doyle stories Moriarty is, deliberately, very lightly drawn. The absence of any detail about him adds to his sinister omnipresence. Here he comes across as less sinister master criminal as peevish schoolmaster – I exaggerate, but not much. Being second in command to a bloodless criminal mastermind might be an interesting job, but here Moriarty is just an inverted caricature of Sherlock Holmes – all his traits, quirks, and characteristics are reflected in the portrait of Moriarty, including the experiments with bees/wasps.
Lastly there is the use of stories, characters and themes from 19th Century literature. At first this seems like it might work – these stories provide a structure and setting for the Moran and Moriarty characters to develop. But it doesn’t quite work. The first story used is a very obscure Zane Grey novel – the epitome of the trashy disposable pot-boiler. Later stories are stronger but the gimmicky impression is hard to shake off. While most of the borrowed themes are recognisable, inevitably one feels irritated if one spots a reference, but is unable to remember its source – particularly as Newman seems to prefer the more obscure quarters of 19th Century fiction. Sometimes it works, as with the Green Eyed Goddess chapters – but I was left wondering why not just invent your own story lines?

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