No Relation by Terry Fallis

Review by Chris Redmond

Canadian comic novelist Terry Fallis — now an honorary member of the Bootmakers of Toronto — has mentioned Sherlock Holmes in his work before, but the topic has a more prominent and precious place in No Relation, and the Bootmakers themselves make an appearance.

It's not too much of a spoiler, I think, to say that Professor James Moriarty is a character in the novel. This would be the Moriarty who is retired from a career teaching mathematics at UCLA and Columbia, who is 69 years old but somehow “middle-aged,” and who is “no relation” to Sherlock Holmes's nemesis. The characters also include Mahatma Gandhi, Marie Antoinette and Mario Andretti — all, again, no relation.

The UCLA/Columbia Professor Moriarty is, wouldn't you know it, an enthusiastic Sherlockian, who is hoping to come to the notice of the Baker Street Irregulars through a scholarly paper he's writing about “The Blue Carbuncle.” There's a moment of excitement halfway through the book when his work is accepted for publication in the Baker Street Journal. Sherlockians familiar with the way our little world works will find these events a bit unrealistic — perhaps we can accept that they've been simplified for the benefit of the non-Sherlockian reading public.

But unquestionably the part of the book we will like best is chapter 9, in which Moriarty (along with the narrator, and for the sake of avoiding spoilers let's not say anything much about him) visits the Toronto Reference Library and immerses himself in an exhibition of Sherlockian and Doylean treasures. (That would probably be the 2013 show “Adventures with Sherlock Holmes.”) And then he meets one of the leaders of the Bootmakers, wearing “a paisley cardigan.”

There is subtle humour in this book, there are literary allusions, there is the understatement that is characteristic of Fallis's narrative style, and there is a substantial plot thread about underwear manufacturing that never quite allows itself to become underwear humour. What more could a reader want, really?