Why Moriarity?

by  Michael Kurland

A British online magazine asked me why Moriarty was my hero. In part I replied: 
I am the author of five (so far) novels casting Sherlock Holmes's nemesis Professor Moriarty as my hero. “Antihero perhaps?” you ask. No, certainly not. Hero.

One reviewer of my most recent Moriarty, Who Thinks Evil, said that she enjoyed the book but she wasn't planning to read any more because she couldn't accept Moriarty as a good guy. Well, I sympathize with her view but it doesn't hold up under what biblical scholars call a textual analysis. Moriarty is given more than a passing mention in only two Holmes stories, and even in these cases he is kept offstage. We have only Holmes's word that Moriarty is “the Napoleon of crime,” and perhaps Holmes is biased. He provides us with a narrative that is, at best, inconsistent.

As Moriarty himself explains it (as excerpted from my story “Years ago and in a Different Place”), “...Holmes had the temerity to describe me as 'organizer of half that is evil and nearly all that is undetected in this great city' (London). What crimes I had committed he was curiously silent about. Watson did not ask for specifics and none were offered.

“In 'The Final Problem' Watson relates that Holmes appeared one day... and told him that he was being threatened by me and that he had already been attacked twice that day by my agents and expected to be attacked again, probably by a man using an air rifle. If that were so, was it not thoughtful of him to go to the residence of his close friend and thus place him, also, in deadly peril?

“Holmes declares that in three days he will be able to place 'the professor, with all the principal members of his gang,' in the hands of the police. Why wait? Holmes gives no coherent reason. But until then, Holmes avers, he is in grave danger. If this were so, would not Scotland Yard gladly have given Holmes a room, nay a suite of rooms, in the hotel of his choosing –- or in the Yard itself –- to keep him safe? But Holmes says that nothing will do but that he must flee the country, and once again Watson believes him. Is not unquestioning friendship a wonderful thing?”

I could go on –- indeed in the story the professor does –- but I think that I've made my point that I'm justified in portraying Professor Moriarty in a way other than Watson's second-hand and somewhat biased view. My Professor Moriarty is indeed a criminal, but more in the mode of Robin Hood or Simon Templar than Al Capone or Charlie Manson. He commits crimes to support his scientific research, and picks targets that deserve to be fleeced. The reason, in my books, that Holmes sees Moriarty as “the greatest villain unhung,” is that the professor is ever so slightly smarter than Holmes and he can't stand it.

Michael Kurland
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