This is a cracker of a book: a reminder of just how good detective fiction can be in the right hands.
Set in May 1894 it begins with the fishing out of Professor Moriarty’s body from the Reichenbach Falls (Sherlock Holmes, as we all know, had survived the encounter, made his escape and left Doctor Watson and the rest of the world believing him to be dead), the discovery of a letter sewn into his jacket and a chase to track down the author of the letter.
That chase takes us back to London, with Inspector Athelney Jones of Scotland Yard and Pinkerton’s agent Frederick Chase, sent from New York to track down a possible connection between the late Professor and America’s equivalent “Napoleon of crime,” Clarence Devereux.
This is not what is sometimes described as ‘cosy’ detective fiction: this is brutal and often bloody stuff and at times resembles a Victorian version of the world of the Kray twins. And nor is it a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, with Jones and Chase standing in for Holmes and Watson. This is a story about revenge and takeover, a story of how London’s criminal world is adapting to the absence of both Moriarty and Holmes.
Horowitz has done his research as thoroughly as he did with his 2011 Holmes novel The House of Silk. We are in London in 1894 and the voices and feel are authentic. While Conan Doyle didn’t dwell on this side of the city in his Holmes stories it was a side that clearly existed and a side that Horowitz describes in all its gory colours. Horowitz’s younger fans – and there are millions of them – may find this a little grown-up for their tastes, but I think they will still enjoy the thrill of the chase and the pell-mell pace.
And that’s another strength of the book: it isn’t leisurely – it doesn’t plod along picking up clue after clue and leading to an inevitable conclusion. Nothing in this story is what it seems to be, so read it carefully and be sure to separate the hard evidence from the red herrings. Horowitz doesn’t actually smash apart the ten golden rules of detective fiction (drawn up by Monsignor Ronald Knox in 1928) but he certainly bends and stretches them! In other hands this could have damaged the structure and integrity of the plot, but he has managed to hold all the parts together and deliver a solution that not only makes sense, but also will make many readers slap their forehead and groan, “why didn’t I spot that?”
This book is aimed at those who enjoyed The House of Silk as well as those who enjoy ‘golden era’ detection. A knowledge of Sherlock Holmes is not essential, but Holmesians will appreciate the nods and winks in their direction. Inspector Jones appears in only one of the Holmes cases, The Sign of the Four, and makes a dog’s dinner of it: so it is interesting – and maybe appropriate – that Horowitz chooses him rather than the much better known inspectors Gregson or Lestrade. Frederick Chase is an entirely new character, an outsider bringing a different perspective. It’s a convincing partnership. And it’s a convincing and very satisfying book, too. Horowitz pulled it off with Holmes in 2011 and he has now pulled it off with Moriarty. Let’s hope he tackles Mycroft sometime soon!
Those who miss Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson in the main story will welcome the short story at the end. The Three Monarchs is pitch perfect pastiche, so perfect in fact that it could easily be a ‘lost’ Conan Doyle.
r Alex Kane will be ‘in conversation’ with Anthony Horowitz on November 18 in the Great Hall at Queen’s University. Tickets – priced £5 – are available from No Alibis Bookshop (02890319607). Horowitz will be signing books afterwards and copies of Moriarty will be discounted for ticket holders. The event begins at 7pm and ends around 9pm.