Title: Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the D’Urbervilles
Author: Kim Newman
Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: October 4, 2011
Like chocolate and peanut butter, sometimes mixing two things together creates a product greater than the sum of its parts. It’s particularly incredible considering the already impressive quality of the components here. This is absolutely the case with the Hound of D’Urbervilles, author Kim Newman’s foray into the world of Professor James Moriarty. One of the greatest literary villains in history written by one of the most amazing writers in print today? Yes, please.
This is, as you might tell by the title, a book about Professor Moriarty, the notorious nemesis of Sherlock Holmes. It is presented as a series of seven short stories tied together chronologically with a pre- and post-face set in the present. Like the Holmes tales, the narrative is presented by an associate as opposed to the titular character. In this case, the author is one Colonel Sebastian “Basher” Moran: soldier, big-game hunter, world traveler, and someone who is both a little sexist and racist, as is mostly typical for the era. As antithesis to Holmes’s Dr. Watson, Moran is not a doctor, but a killer. He is, in fact, Professor Moriarty’s chief murderer. It is a testament to Newman’s literary skills that the murdering criminals presented in this book are rather likeable. Perhaps it’s merely that they are the lesser evils in the grand scheme of the unfolding narrative, but more often than not I found myself rooting for Moriarty and company to triumph over their adversaries.
The intricacies of the Professor’s plots and the deft skill with which Newman handles all the story elements makes for extremely pleasant reading. Things don’t always end up quite where they seem to lead and the various twists and turns keep things fresh. I’m not going to spoil the specifics; the journey in reading these stories should be preserved for the reader. Though this can be considered a companion piece to the Holmes tales, the name “Sherlock Holmes” is not mentioned once in the entire tome. Other Holmes staples, including Lestrade, Watson, and Irene Adler, are named directly, with Adler herself occupying a key position in a couple of the tales. As is often the case in Kim Newman stories, there are several references to other pieces of pop culture sprinkled throughout the tales in the book. Two prime examples are Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop, of Sweeney Todd fame, and the Maltese Falcon.
Despite the careworn setting and characters drawn from the Holmes mythology, the entire volume seems fresh, inventive, and incredibly alive. Newman seems to have quite a knack for taking existing characters and giving them new life. He’s done it previously with Dracula (Anno Dracula), real-life people such as Elvis Presley (Comeback Tour), and with both “Basher” Moran and Professor James Moriarty. Whether you are a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s enduring legacy or not, The Hound of the D’Urbervilles is a book well worth reading. A candle burner, you’ll have a very hard time putting it down from start to finish. Despite the number of interesting titles published in 2011, this volume is quite likely my favorite release of the year.
Rating: 4.5 / 5 Consulting Detectives