Friday, 4 March 2011

Moriarty - John Gardner (2008)

The big list of Stuff I Like includes Doctor Who, David Bowie, historical fiction, seventies telly and classic crime novels (a combination of all of these in one would be the perfect product for me). So I'm inclined to be attracted to things like John Gardener's 'Moriarty', the third and final book in a series which tracks the career of Sherlock Holmes' nemesis after he (allegedly) survived his encounter with the Great detective at the Reichenbach Falls.

Don't be put off by the fact this is the end of the series, btw. The first two books were written in the 1970s and the main connections between those and this book are explained by the author's preface. It's enough to know that Moriarty is back in London after a spell in the States and is looking to take his criminal empire back from one Sir Jack Idell ('Idle Jack') who has taken his place as London crime Kingpin.

Having read one of Gardner's Bond books and finding it...unassuming at best, I picked up this book cheaply in an excellent remainder bookshop just outside Manchester (on a cold, misty night in the good company of Paul, George and Jeremy, which made book buying all the more pleasurable), attracted byt he subject matter far more than the writer. And I'm glad I did. It's the sort of book I find myself gobbling up greedily, delaying putting the kids to bed to finish the chapter, walking slowly to the shops so I can read another couple of pages on the way, hiding in the bedroom to read just a little more. The writing is assured and never descends to pastiche and Gardner has clearly done his research (even including a glossary at the end).

What sets this apart form many other Holmes' sequels I've read (apart from the almost complete absence of Holmes!) is the set of characters who inhabit the book like very slightly shop-soiled Dickensian figures. Armies of punishers and dippers, lurkers and cracksmen create a backdrop against which Moriarty and his Praetorian Guard plot and scheme against Idle Jack and his minions, and in which disfigurement, torture and death seem a commonplace, even if love and humour also flourish in the most unlikely of places. It's a wonderfully immersive book, and an easy one to get lost in, as all good books should be.

The first two in the series seem to be quite expensive second-hand, but I'll be buying them in any case. Highly recommended.


  1. Shopping with two Beatles and a frog with a fishing line? Impressive.

  2. Mrs Tiggy-Winkle was invited too, but she had a washing to do that day.