Sunday, 14 June 2015

Moran's Memories

The first novel by Kim Newman I got my hands on was “Anno Dracula” and I never finished it. Somehow, I couldn’t get into the story. Perhaps it was the story, perhaps it was me. I was both interested and a little unsure when I stumbled over “The Hound of the d’Urbervilles” in the ‘suggestions’ section of Amazon. I looked into the book, read a few lines of the first chapter, looked at the price, and decided to take the chance. It was a good decision, because I went through the book basically in one sitting.

Over the years, I’ve read a lot of pastiches and additional novels hanging on, one way or another, to the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Some were good, some were interesting once, some have found their way among my personal favourites, some I’ve forgotten by now. But this one was the first book I found not dealing with Sherlock Holmes (who mostly appears in the last chapter, under the moniker ‘The Thin Man’ except for one sentence), but with Professor Moriarty. Like Holmes, he has his chronicler, Colonel Moran. Unlike Watson, however, Moran doesn’t have a serious case of ‘hero worship’ to deal with. Moran does respect his boss for his intelligence and abilities. He fears Moriarty for his ruthlessness and disregard for the human life. He’s not smitten with Moriarty or sees him as some kind of twisted hero. He’s also more crude and, in some ways, more honest in his prose.

I like heist stories and that is what the seven chapters (each with several sub-chapters) are. They range from Moran’s first meeting with Moriarty (set slightly before “A Study in Scarlet,” in which Holmes and Watson meet) to Moriarty’s dying day (suggesting Holmes did not tell the truth about what happened at the waterfall). Some of them run parallel to Sherlock Holmes stories you might know, some set them up, some just imitate them (like the titular “Hound of the d’Urbervilles”). Others take their lead for a vast span of gothic or other turn-of-the-century literature (such as two less-known stories by Bram Stoker and even an ‘all but forgotten’ German villain).
Moran’s voice throughout the stories, which are told from his perspective, is true to the character we are presented to. A man who freely admits he finds crime and murder thrilling (which makes him such a great second in command for Moriarty’s Firm), a man who constantly seems to think about sex when laying his eyes on a woman, a man with a lot of experience, a man with a sarcastic voice and a good eye for detail.
His description of Moriarty, where it comes in, doesn’t paint a very nice picture of the Napoleon of Crime. He knows from their very first meeting he will not leave ‘the Firm,’ as he refers to Moriarty’s crime syndicate, alive. But he also knows it will offer him a steady income (important for a man who likes to gamble) and the frequent thrill of the hunt (most of the time for humans). Yet, he paints a very complete picture of his boss, relaying Moriarty’s mannerisms and his way of dealing with people, problems, and life as a such.
The stories, despite frequent murder and crime, are not to be taken too seriously. Quite some of them, like “The Adventure of the Six Maledictions,” are over-the-top and campy, very much unlike the tone of the first “Anno Dracula.” Perhaps that is the main difference.

“The Hound of the d’Urbervilles” is a good read, interesting, full of references, funny and action-filled. If you can set morals aside for a few hours, you’ll have a blast reading it.

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