In 1893, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, tiring of what is now considered one of the most enduring literary characters in history, killed off Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis, Professor James Moriarty, in a story called "The Final Problem." Doyle wanted to pursue the writing of historical novels and thought (and, one can presume, hoped) that "The Final Problem" was the end of the matter--but it wasn’t. The public wanted more stories of Holmes and Watson, and the outcry was immediate and sustained. Even Queen Victoria is rumored to have pressured Doyle to return to the character. He held out for eight years, and finally relented with the release of The hound of the Baskervilles. While published in 1901, the novel was set prior to Holmes's death. But the public still was not satisfied. So, in 1903, Doyle started a new series of Holmes stories, beginning with “The Adventures of the Empty House,” which was set in 1894, and within which Holmes explains that he faked his death to fool his enemies.
Holmes’s death, resurrection, and the plot inconsistencies within “The Final Problem” have been a conundrum, mostly without a satisfying resolution, for more than a hundred years. Author Anthony Horowitz, one of the few authors endorsed by the Doyle Estate, has used "The Final Problem," and those very plot inconsistencies as the springboard for his new novel, Moriarty.
Five days after the events described in "The Final Problem," Athelney Jones, a detective from Scotland Yard (and a character from the Doyle novel The sign of four) makes his way to Meiringen, Switzerland, and Reichenbach Falls to investigate the reported deaths of Holmes and Moriarty. When he arrives at the Police depot, Jones makes the acquaintance of Frederick Chase, an American Pinkerton agent. Chase has followed Clarence Devereux, a criminal mastermind, from the United States to the United Kingdom because he is convinced that a collaboration is in the making between Devereux and Moriarty. But now Moriarty is dead. Is it possible that Moriarty’s death can be used to capture Devereux and end his plans for establishing a criminal presence in London?
Horowitz, who established his familiarity and dexterity with Doyle’s oeuvre in 2012’s House of silk, returns to tell a story that both is, and isn’t really, a Sherlock Holmes tale. Neither Holmes nor Watson are present in the story, but their essence can be felt on every page. Horowitz begins Moriarty with a detailed dissection of the “The Final Problem,” shining a bright light on the inconsistencies, improbabilities, and loose ends. He then goes on to use them to tell a story about Holmes, Watson and Moriarty so well-crafted and engrossing that it should appeal to both dedicated fans and casual readers alike.
As with House of silk, Moriarty is grimmer and more detailed in the actualities of life in 19th century London than Doyle ever attempted to be. While this results in a grittier--and, at times, gorier--story than those to which Holmes’s fans may have been accustomed, it does not detract from the novel. On the contrary, it grounds the novel with a sense of reality and a greater sense of what is at stake during the investigation. The game is, once again, afoot!