John Gardner
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Buy *Moriarty* by John Gardner online

John Gardner
320 pages
November 2008
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

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In 1900, the evil criminal underworld seems to be taking London by storm. Professor James Moriarty has just secretly returned after escaping the clutches of Sherlock Holmes at Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. Excited to be living at home at last in the city he so loves, Moriarty is comforted by the knowledge that his one true love, Sal Hodges, is still close by.

It comes as a shock, then, to learn that many of Moriarty’s loyal followers, with whom he used to bribe and torture those who dared step on his stamping ground, have left to take up with Sir Jack Idell, a man of lascivious tastes and an up and coming mastermind in the city’s criminal fraternity. Even Moriarty’s loyal Praetorian Guard is in danger and fragmenting, and he can depend only partly on his beloved Sal.

Divided by his very nature, Idell’s clandestine organization has become an impossible burden that consumes Moriarty’s soul, leaving him powerless and conflicted. As Idell seems to be effortlessly expanding his criminal enterprises throughout central London, Moriarty is frustrated at best when he discovers what he has long suspected: that his family of villains can no longer be completely trusted.

Idell is determined to reap profits from the sale and prostitution of children. He has few scruples about his urges and desires, and other people’s susceptibilities are never held much to the fore by him. In the light of Idell’s challenge, Moriarty can do little else but put his confidence in the four men who comprise his Praetorian Guard and who all become the major players in Moriarty’s grand schemes: Ember, Albert Spear, the evil Chinese Lee Chow - who has made a career out of running opium dens and dispensing cruel justice - and the ever-present Tom Terrment. These are street men who have long specialized in Moriarty’s special brand of persuasion, the confidence sharks, and the assassins.

A complex man who comprehends lust but not love, Moriarty hammers at the number of men and women who have gone to try their luck with Jack. Their grisly murders hint at so much chaos and ultimately play out against the freezing, fog-shrouded streets, silent, cold and menacing, “the world constantly muffled by the think, bitter mist.” The increasing suspicions of authorities lead Moriarty to take the necessary terrible steps to enable his great plan for his future as the one sure criminal mastermind in all of London.

Throughout his novel, Gardner immerses us in 1890’s London as Moriarty assumes new identities in order to weave his web of murder around Idell. The story is almost like a 19th-century travelogue as the story races around London from Oxford Street to Hyde Park to Marble Arch and St. Paul’s, and Brick Lane with its chop houses alongside ale and saloon bars, and then on to the comfortable drawing rooms of Park Lane.

The strength of the novel is the rich imagery, London thick with the scent of horse dung and humanity as the cat-and-mouse game to destroy Idell accelerates throughout the side alleys and byways, where the pervasive atmosphere of this great metropolis is made all too real.

Although this is probably a more compelling story for those who have invested in the previous Moriarty novels, this installment is still a solid and sharp look at the criminal underworld of Victorian England. Fear and promise are ever present, and the evil Moriarty is perpetually on the hunt, the tentacles of his criminal labyrinth always crystal clear in his mind.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2008

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