My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Initial response: So far, pretty darned funny. Like a Holmes and Watson through the looking glass, with a sprinkling of Flashman for fun!
Professor Moriarity: The Hound of the D’Urbervilles is a collection of short stories by Kim Newman, the author of the Anno Dracula novels. The collection features a series of tales recounting the memoirs of Colonel Sebastian Moran, being written or dictated in some remote spot, long after retiring. The seven stories and introductory material recount a ten year period in the criminal career of Colonel Moran, with a large part of the narrative focusing on the exploits and actions of James Moriarity, the villain of the Sherlock Holmes stories.
Every tale is a pastiche (or homage through a dark mirror) to a particular Holmes story or some other famous Victorian fictional reference– “A Shambles in Belgravia” for “A Scandal in Bohemia”, the titular “Hound of the D’Urbervilles” as a stand in for “the Hound of the Baskervilles”, etc. In this reverse mirror of the Holmes stories, it is Moran who acts as Boswell to his mentor, Moriarity, exactly as Watson does for Holmes.
If you’ve ever read any of the novels set in Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula universe, you already know that he can weave a tale laden with references that will have you scurrying for Jess Nevin’s The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana. He is more than a one trick pony here; we are given the references in an offhand manner, it’s up to us to be in the know about what Colonel Moran is narrating. For a reader like me, it’s just ducky discovering Victorian references I have had no notion of (as in the Vivisectionist Doctor Jack Quartz, Professor Moriarity’s American rival) or Madame Sara, “The Sorceress of the Strand”. I never tire of such references; this is why I read and enjoy Kim Newman’s books. Interestingly, Sherlock Holmes himself is hardly mentioned in these stories, he doesn’t make an appearance until the last one.
On top of all the fun name dropping is a meta-level where the reader gets a distinct sense of Moran coming to grips with his own mortality.. an encroaching feeling that he is becoming a heroic dinosaur in the face of the Modern Age. As A.C. Doyle does not portray Moran as anything but a one-dimensional villain, I preferred this version.
Professor Moriarity is a very fast read, I had it done in about a day and a half, and I found it thoroughly enjoyable. Highly Recommended.