I’ve always liked villains. When I first read The Hobbit, the characters I was most interested in were the Necromancer, even though he was only mentioned in passing, and of course Smaug. I enjoyed reading everything about that crafty old dragon. The illustrations in my copy looked very much like the Rankin/Bass film, now that I stop to consider it, and the pictures of Smaug were amazing.
The same holds true of The Eyes of the Dragon, Watership Down, and many of the other books I’ve read: the bad guy holds the most interest for me. This isn’t always true; I’ve read American Psycho and Patrick Bateman is pretty repulsive. But a charismatic, interesting antagonist will always be my favorite character, and you don’t get much more fascinating than the Napoleon of Crime.
Kim Newman is an excellent author, and I would recommend him to anyone. His trademark in the Anno Dracula series is a near-impossible amount of crossovers with almost any other book, movie or TV character who could fit into this literary time and space, and to do it so well that it feels natural. The same happens here, and with an equal amount of talent and creativity.
This book is basically set up as an actual historical document, a mirror to Watson’s journal, with Sebastian Moran as the narrator. He describes how he came to meet the Professor and several of their “adventures” together. Newman’s gift for painting vivid characters is in full force, and he indeed makes Moriarty a dangerous person here, well able to contend with the Great Detective. Moran is likewise well-made, an entertaining combination of the educated professional killer and a crude thug (and I’d be very pleased to see Moran introduced in some form to the BBC show, but that’s neither here nor there). He is very much Watson’s mirror as well, commenting on English society and being baffled by Moriarty’s work while showing his own ability.
The stories, however, are not counterpoints to Sherlocks’ tales, but rather separate adventures, though similarities to the cases are evident. That being said, the cases are themselves interesting, especially with the subtle undercurrent of brutality and evil that the two villains bring with them to every assignment.
And with any Newman novel, the footnotes and list of references are amazing and well worth reading on their own, if only for the “Oh, that’s who it was” you’ll be murmuring after every one. You may also be flipping ahead to check them when a particularly interesting name, place or incident is mentioned. It may also cause you to add several books to your next shopping trip or movie night. If one of them isn’t by Newman, you’re missing out.