Moriarty Mysterious Book ReportMoriarty by John Gardner

Harcourt, 2008, $24.00, 298 pages, ISBN 978-0-15-101252-7

A couple of weeks ago in MBR No. 33 we reviewed a retro Sherlock Holmes novel that generated some buzz.  It got us thinking; it might be fun to do another similar, but-not-quite-the-same kind of review.  So, this week’s Mysterious Book Report will cover a novel about Sherlock Holmes’ mortal enemy, a sinister, arch-criminal genius; the Napoleon of crime . . . organizer of half that is evil and nearly all that is undetected (Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes in The Final Problem) whose name is Professor James Moriarty.  The novel is Moriarty by the late John Gardner.  He authored fifty-three books before he passed in 2007, among them fourteen James Bond novels, The Boysie Oakes novels and three about the arch-criminal James Moriarty.  Unlike other retro-novels, where one author spins a story about another author’s character, Gardener’s Moriarty stands alone.  Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson are barely mentioned . . . if at all.  Instead, three mysterious leather-bound, hand-written, coded journals are delivered to Mr. Gardener by the criminal grandson of an associate of Moriarty’s.  They are purported to be the secret diaries of James Moriarty, written in an unbreakable code, known only to himself.  With the help of a cryptoanalyst who specializes in breaking the most difficult of enemy codes, Gardener is slowly able to decipher the old journals . . . which do indeed appear to be those of  Professor James Moriarty.  He’s returned from America to London after a three year absence, to reclaim and rebuild his criminal empire.  I thoroughly enjoyed the romp through the underworld of turn-of-the-century London.  Should you chose to read it, you’ll learn about dollymops, gonifs, lurkers, magsmen and whizzers, all of which are criminal slang of the period.  You’ll also have a great time reading.


John Dwaine McKenna