Ever since physician-author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created detective Sherlock Holmes and his crime-solving partner and biographer, Dr. John Watson, in the late 1880s and early 1900s (in four novels and 56 short stories), subsequent writers have added their own versions modeled after his characters, time period and style.
One of the latest and most original of such outings is “Moriarty” by Anthony Horowitz (Harper, $27, 285 pages). The action takes place during the fictional “Great Hiatus of 1891-1894,” when Holmes was absent from the London scene. Presumably, he and his nemesis, Prof. James Moriarty, had fallen to their deaths while doing battle at Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. That “death scene” occurred in Conan Doyle’s “The Final Problem,” which was followed by Holmes’ reappearance in the short-story collection “The Return of Sherlock Holmes.”
In “Moriarty” – so titled to invoke the shadow of the world’s greatest criminal, which continues to hover over London – American Pinkerton Detective Agency operative Frederick Chase pursues a killer to London, and teams with Scotland Yard Inspector Athelney Jones, a “devotee of Holmes’ methods of detection.” In the tale, London is currently without its master detective and master criminal, leaving the town wide open for both good and evil. This telling is much more violent and cold-blooded than any of Conan Doyle’s stories.
Horowitz’s previous Holmesian novel, 2012’s “The House of Silk,” featured Holmes and Watson “in a case depicting events too shocking, too monstrous to ever appear in print until now,” and sold 450,000 copies.
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I caught up with the author in London, via email.
Q: With so many writers and filmmakers contributing to the Holmes-Watson pastiche, where do you see yourself fitting in?
A: I hope “Moriarty” and “The House of Silk” are a bit more than a pastiche. I’m trying to write original novels that deliver huge surprises for the readers. That said, I’ve always loved the Holmes stories, and if my work steers people back to the originals, I’m happy about that, too.
Q: You’ve filled in the time gap during the Great Hiatus. Isn’t that a risky business?
A: There have been quite a few attempts to explain what happens to Sherlock Holmes during the time of his disappearance, but that’s not quite my aim. I introduce two completely new characters in that wonderful period, and I enjoyed myself a lot.
Q: In a way, Frederick Chase assumes the narrative role of Watson, while Inspector Jones is the stand-in for Holmes. The criminal Clarence Devereaux aspires to become the “new Moriarty.” That’s a whole new approach.
A: After the success of “House of Silk,” I felt the need to set myself a fresh challenge. After writing about the world’s greatest detective (in “Silk”), it wasn’t a great stretch to move onto the greatest criminal. And this was my inspiration. I was dealing with an incredibly evil man. Would it be possible, therefore, to write an evil book?
Q: And you succeeded.
A: The point is to tell the story of a new sort of criminal who has arrived in London, bringing with him a particularly American level of violence, (as depicted) in the movie “Gangs of New York.”
To some extent, Jones and Chase are its victims. For me, part of the pleasure of the book was creating a relationship between the two men that mirrors (the one between) Holmes and Watson. It’s Jones’ tragedy that he has spent his whole life trying to be Sherlock Holmes. But he discovers, in the course of the action, that he simply isn’t.
Q: You were approached by the Conan Doyle estate to write both books. What an honor.
A: The process couldn’t have been simpler. They asked, and I thought about it for perhaps five seconds. How could I refuse an invitation to “live” inside 221B Baker Street with two of the greatest characters in fiction? The estate didn’t give me any (suggestions or editing), and I’m grateful for their trust.
Q: Your research for the books must have been vast.
A: I’ve been reading 19th-century literature all my life, so to a certain extent I’m steeped in the language and the physicality of that world. It also helps that I live in the middle of London, where the books are set. But I did I re-read the entire canon before I started work. I also read a great many books about Victorian London and used a couple of researchers to provide the answers to specific questions I couldn’t find myself. I wanted both books to be as accurate as possible.
Q: Is there another Holmes-Watson book coming up?
A: I would like to revisit their world sometime, but next up is my James Bond novel. After that I’m visiting the world of Agatha Christie – though with a major twist.
‘Ripper’ in paperback
The author is known for her stories about family and women’s issues, and for the literary technique of “magic realism” in such novels as “The House of the Spirits” and “City of the Beasts.” Allende has appeared for the Bee Book Club.
“Ripper” is her departure into crime fiction. Brilliant teenager Amanda Martin of San Francisco fancies herself a sleuth, spending her free time playing an online “virtual murder-solving game” called “Ripper.” When real murders begin occurring throughout the city, she and her friends put their skills to work on a case that could involve a serial killer. When her mother vanishes, time is suddenly running out too quickly.
▪ Robert Winter for “Dust In the Wind: Real FEMA Disaster Stories,” 2 p.m. Jan. 31 at Virgin Sturgeon restaurant, 1577 Garden Highway, Sacramento; (916) 921-2694. In his memoir, the former Federal Emergency Management Agency inspector recalls the many disasters he and his agency responded to during his career. Proceeds from book sales will go to www.celebrities4disasterrelief.org.
▪ Kakwasi Somadhi for “Coming Forth by Day,” 2 p.m. Feb. 7 at Underground Books, 2814 35th St., Sacramento; (916) 737-3333, www.underground-books.com.
▪ Patrick Coonan for his book of poems, “Compilation of Thoughts,” 3 p.m. Feb. 8 at 12 Bridges Library, 485 12 Bridges Drive, Lincoln; (916) 434-2410. Coonan was once nominated for poet laureate of San Francisco. His poem “U.S.S. Arizona” is part of the battleship’s memorial in Pearl Harbor, Honolulu.
▪ Avid Reader at the Tower continues its guest-author program at 1600 Broadway, Sacramento; (916) 441-4400, www.avidreadertower.com: Azin Sametipour for “Tehran Moonlight,” 2 p.m. Saturday; Isabel Corr Rizzo for “Widow’s Shoes,” 2 p.m. Jan. 31.
▪ Face in a Book continues its guest-author program at 4359 Town Center Blvd., El Dorado Hills; (916) 941-9401, www.getyourfaceinabook.com: R.J. Machado de Quevedo for “Sanctuary of Fire,” the third book in “The Deceiver Saga,” noon Jan. 31.
Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe.