The Revenge of Moriarty

The Revenge of Moriarty
John Gardner
(Pan, 1975)

There are many ways to write Sherlockian fiction, as my shelves groaning with non-ACD books attest (and I have barely made a dent in the full array). Some stick with Watson’s voice. Some go for Holmes’ view on events. Some narrate it from the point of view of another character (e.g. the cabman in A Hansom for Holmes, or a housemaid in Erasing Sherlock). Gardner’s conceit is that the story is constructed from a combination of the decoded diaries of Professor Moriarty and accounts by the non-canonical Inspector Crow. Revenge is actually the sequel to The Return of Moriarty but as this was a charity shop find I wasn’t overly worried about reading it first.

There are also several ways to review non-ACD Holmes stories. If purporting to be by Watson, you tend to look at the plausibility of the narrator’s voice. You might read it with an eye to how the puzzle reveal fits with ACD’s. You might just look at how in or out of character the canonical characters are.

Or you might just read it and think “but this is a bit rubbish, and sexist to boot”.

The plot is not overly bad, and certainly no more slight than a lot of novels. Moriarty is a character I think of as a cipher anyway. Unlike Colonal Moran or Irene Adler, I’ve never seen Moriarty as more than a plot device, there to be Holmes’ foil. He’s more interesting in his absence. Gardner twists and squeezes and generally contorts Moriarty until he fits better with the idea of a, well, a Bond villain. His Moriarty is no thin but terrifying Professor of mathematics turned to crime, but a virile man of action who disguises himself as his older, dead, brother.

I mention Bond because Gardner also wrote various Bond novels after Fleming’s death. I can see why. Gardner’s characters see women as Fleming’s did: good for sex, or for ensnaring enemies using sex, for having babies and not a lot else. That’s what you expect in Bond. It’s not what you expect in Sherlockian fiction. Holmes’s marital advice to Crow – and who would go to Holmes for advice on women? – is to put his foot down, put his wife in her place and get her to start putting out again.

Of course, women aren’t a strong feature in ACD’s Sherlock Holmes stories. They are housekeepers, or ladies with problems that need solving. Even when Watson is married, his wife (or wives) is secondary to the batchelor life of Holmes. However, the women that appear – including Irene Adler – are not treated with contempt. Watson, the normal narrator, is a gentleman. Holmes may be dismissive, but he is not disparaging. In The Revenge of Moriarty, the narration seems to have an even lower view of women than the characters do.

That made this novel unpleasant enough in tone that, even if I thought the plot was cracking and the characters entertaining, I’d not recommend it to anyone.

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