Among the world's great fictional villains Professor James Moriarty stands alone. Doctor Fu Manchu, Hannibal Lecter, Count Dracula, Iago, Voldemort, Darth Vader, Bill Sikes, Inspector Javert, and the Wicked Witch of the West all have their fans, all have their place in popular fiction. But for every one who can tell you whose life Iago made miserable, fifty honor that Professor James Moriarty was the particular nemesis of Sherlock Holmes. But just how evil was he?
These stories by Michael Kurland explore an alternate possibility: that Moriarty wasn't evil at all; that his villainy was less along the lines of Fu Manchu and more like Robin Hood or Simon Templar. And the reason for Sherlock Holmes' characterization of him as "the Napoleon of crime" was that the professor was one of the few men he'd ever met who was smarter than he - and he couldn't stand it!
Michael Kurland's collection of four stories features Professor James Moriarty as the protagonist (and even, one might say, hero). All four fit within Arthur Conan Doyle's canon -- or, at the very least, they don't contradict it -- but offer a very different perspective. From Kurland's Moriarty-centric point of view, Moriarty is a consulting detective in his own right, called "criminal" only because he's more practical in his means and willing to be creative in how he funds his scientific experiments. Despite the fact he operates in a "grey area" with regard to the law sometimes, he is consulted by various officials including Inspector Lestrade and even Mycroft Holmes when necessity requires it.
The portrait listeners get of Sherlock Holmes is of a petulant, adolescent-like personality, at once willing to learn from Moriarty but also terribly jealous and suspicious of him. Throughout the course of the four stories, we see Moriarty offering pearls of wisdom that Holmes would later mimic and claim as his own insights.
"Years Ago and in a Different Place" explores how Moriarty and Holmes first met (when the former was a lecturer and the latter a student) and the tragedy that caused Holmes to develop a lasting antipathy for his nemesis -- and, for that matter, distrust of women.
"Reichenbach" tells the "real" story of why Holmes and Moriarty together staged their deaths at Reichenbach Falls and what they were up to as their respective circles mourned them.
"The Paradol Paradox" and "The Picture of Oscar Wilde" are told from the perspective of Moriarty's very own Dr. Watson -- alas, no Sebastian Moran here! -- an American news reporter turned partner-in-crime. Moriarty's solution to the latter mystery, a case first refused by Holmes, shows how Moriarty is willing to act in ways Holmes is not while tidying up an investigation. (To be fair, this is a question of degree, not kind, as Holmes proves willing in canon to break all manner of laws.)
These stories are very well written and engaging, with entertaining glimpses into the international affairs and personal politics of the era. I personally would have preferred a different Moriarty, not one who is more Holmes than Holmes himself, and a study of his relationship with Moran and perhaps even the other Moriarty brothers. Even so, I enjoyed listening to this solid collection.
Steve Coulter's narration is well done.