RogerBW's Blog

Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the D'Urbervilles, Kim Newman 24 February 2016

2011 detective fiction parody, collection of seven short stories. Colonel Sebastian Moran, a cad and a bounder, works for Professor Moriarty the consulting criminal.

This is an interesting hybrid sort of book, starting with the self-justifying rogue's autobiography after the manner of Flashman, but larding in not only Holmesian and historical references but names and ideas from other melodramatic fiction. Riders of the Purple Sage, The Prisoner of Zenda, Tess of the d'Urbervilles and "The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God" all provide major plot elements to these stories.

What we don't get is much in the way of sympathetic characters. Moran himself doesn't have the charm of Flashman; he's cheerful in his nastiness, but that only gets one so far, and he feels the need to paint everyone else as even worse than himself; parts of the book can be a bit of a grind. Moran is perhaps too cheerfully racist and sexist and so on: yes, the narrators of the late nineteenth century stories were too, but I fancied I could see Newman laughing up his sleeve at getting away with such naughtiness. Normally I do demand sympathetic characters, and I had to realign my usual reading expectations in order to enjoy this.

But enjoy it I did. Some of the Holmesian references are footnoted, but plenty aren't, and one can have a good time spotting them. The gallimaufry of melodrama is admittedly inspired by Philip José Farmer's Wold Newton universe, but doesn't seem as forced as Farmer's books (or Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) sometimes do. Yes, Fu Manchu is here (though not under that name); so are Raffles, Doctor Mabuse, and of course Irene Adler ("to Professor Moriarty, she is always that bitch"), as well as many much more obscure characters. The plots themselves are very loosely inspired by the Holmes stories that gave them their titles, but rarely intersect; Doyle didn't always play fair with his readers, but Newman doesn't even try, happily using impenetrable disguises and traps laid by Moriarty with no clue given to the reader (or to Moran).

In the end it's mostly a ripping yarn, and enjoyable on that level even without playing spot-the-reference. Characterisation is unpleasant but does at least exist, which is often more than one can say for Doc Savage and his ilk. If you can't enjoy ripping Victorian yarns in the spirit in which they were written, you probably won't enjoy this either.

Recommended by David Damerell.

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  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 04:06pm on 24 February 2016

    I believe it is impossible to be both a cad and a bounder, if the terms are used correctly. Or am I thinking of a dandy and a fop?

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 04:08pm on 24 February 2016

    cad 2. A low-bred, presuming person; a mean, vulgar fellow.

    bounder 2. (Britain, dated) A dishonourable man; a cad.

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