Today (January 2, 2013) would have been the 60th birthday of Marlene R. Aig (right), a dear friend and talented writer whose sudden death in 1996 deprived the Sherlockian world of so much verve, humour, energy and adventure. In her memory I am announcing that a volume rich in verve, humour, energy and adventure is the winner of what I hope will be the first annual award for "the best Sherlockian book I read" during the preceding calendar year. Marlene would have loved it.
The winning book is Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the D'Urbervilles by Kim Newman, already well known for Anno Dracula and other fiction and nonfiction. This book is an instant classic for Sherlockians, not to mention Wells, Hardy, Hope and George MacDonald Fraser. Actually, an affinity for the latter — and his iconic character General Sir Harry Flashman, VC — is probably the most important predictor of those who will enjoy this book, since Colonel Sebastian "Basher" Moran is definitely a chip off the Flashman block.
The author's acknowledgements range from Zane Grey to William Gillette, Nicholas Meyer, and Spike Milligan. And he does not forget to mention John Gardner, whose Moriarty, in three volumes published over the past four decades, casts a simultaneously grim and amusing shadow over this picaresque narrative. It also includes quite a number of characters whom I don't actually recognize, but would undoubtedly know if I had read enough of what Christopher Morley called "Victorian corn" and others might call the essentials of popular culture. Irma Vep? Apparently she originated in a French film as earlier as 1996; I've never seen it, but clearly I've misssed something.
A cursory Internet search turns up plenty of enthusiastic reviews for this book, many of them quoting favourite witty passages. "I found myself laughing aloud at so many moments," writes somebody using the sobriquet of do-you-have-a-flag. "Also Raffles and Bunny make a brief appearance in the story: ‘I've known clever crooks undone by devotion to imbecile girlfriends. Raffles and Manders showed it was the same story among the bumboys.’" (And if there's any Sherlockian who doesn't know Raffles and Manders, well, check out the writings of Arthur Conan Doyle's brother-in-law. More Victorian corn.)
It's a long book, closing in on 500 pages in pretty dense type, at least in the Titan Books trade paperback. Every page is colourful and amusing, and every page is well-written (Newman is an experienced professional), and every page tells something about the later Victorian era, the time that always glows in the Sherlockian imagination — something that may possibly be true, something the reader has to wish were true.
It's a fine read, the best Sherlockian book I read during 2012. As I say, Marlene Aig would have loved it. I wish she were still with us so I could hear her laugh as she talked about it.
Copyright © Chris Redmond 2013