Who Thinks Evil by Michael Kurland is the fifth in a historical mystery series that takes a look at an alternative portrayal of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Professor Moriarty (available February 4, 2014).
There are two famous characters who yet appeared only once in the Sherlock Holmes Canon by Arthur Conan Doyle. And despite those brief appearances, they’ve become an indelible part of the modern interpretations of Sherlock Holmes.
The first, naturally, is “the woman,” the late Irene Adler from “A Scandal in Bohemia.”
The second might be a surprise to some, since nearly every modern version of Holmes picks him as the ultimate enemy: Professor James Moriarty.
The out-of-story reason for Moriarty’s existence is that Doyle wanted to stop writing Holmes stories and move onto what he considered more literary works. That’s why there is no lead-up to Moriarty in the stories that ran in The Strand magazine before “The Final Problem.” The “Napoleon of Crime” was created purely to as a device to kill off Holmes. (Note: Moriarty is mentioned in The Valley of Fear, however that was written after Holmes had returned from the dead in “The Empty House.”)
And yet…Doyle underestimated his skill at character creation. The Professor almost has as much immortality as Holmes himself. Years ago, British writer John Gardner, who was picked to write new novels in the James Bond series, wrote three books in a series featuring Moriarty as the main character. His Moriarty was a villain but one fleshed out, very much like a British “Godfather” type.
And now we have Michael Kurland’s series featuring Moriarty, currently up to five books with this week’s publication of Who Thinks Evil.
This Moriarty isn’t even a villain. He shrugs off Holmes’s contention that he’s “Napoleon of Crime” as a delusion. Moriarty claims to operate around and beyond the law, but only because the world isn’t black and white. This Moriarty is definitely a hero/anti-hero.
Who Thinks Evil opens as Moriarty is in the dock for a supposed robbery that resulted in murder. While his compatriots investigate why he’s being framed for a capital crime, Moriarty is freed to investigate the disappearance of the Duke of Clarence, second in line to the throne, who may have descended into murder and madness. Any resemblance to the crimes of Jack the Ripper is very intentional.
I suspect I would have liked the beginning of this novel more if I’d read the entire series and had time to grow fond of the unusual investigators Moriarty employs, as the opening is full of their plans to uncover the mystery of his being jailed. However, once Moriarty begins to investigate the murders, the story picks up steam and I had to keep turning the pages, compelled to find the answers.
Overall, this is a fun read and a nice return to Victorian London, populated by some interesting characters, including Mycroft Holmes, but, unfortunately, it’s not about to make me a fan of this version of Moriarty.
Why not? Because I adore Holmes. I always have. In this series, he’s seen as somewhat of a lesser detective than Moriarty and someone who unfairly persecutes the good Professor. But making Moriarty more noble puts him closer to Holmes and so, makes Holmes less unique. (This cannot stand.) Moriarty's less of a mirror image here and more like Holmes’ slightly more rakish brother.
However, in the course of looking up Kurland’s books, I also discovered his novel, A Study in Sorcery, a continuation of Randall Garrett’s excellent Lord Darcy series in which Darcy, another Holmes analogue, solves crime in a world where magic works. So while I, on a personal and philosophical basis, may not pick up any more of the Moriarty mysteries, I was impressed enough with Kurland’s writing skill to investigate his Lord Darcy.
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Corrina Lawson is a writer, mom, geek and superhero, though not always all four on the same day. She is a senior editor of the GeekMom blog on Wired.com and the author of a superhero romance series and an alternate history series featuring Romans and Vikings in ancient North America. She has been a comic book geek all her life and often dreamed of growing up to be Lois Lane.