BOOK appreciation

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes infused with Moriarty's elusive genius

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 February, 2015, 11:20pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 February, 2015, 11:20pm

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
by Arthur Conan Doyle
George Newnes

"Aye, there's the genius and the wonder of the thing," Sherlock Holmes exclaims in arguably his most famous case, The Final Problem, about certainly his most famous adversary, Professor James Moriarty. Only one man could drive Holmes to such outraged exclamations, and the "Napoleon of crime" was that person.

Moriarty's genius can be defined in many ways - mathematical and murderous are two - but here it is his elusiveness: "The man pervades London, and no one has heard of him. That's what puts him on a pinnacle in the records of crime."

A comparable complaint rings out in Moriarty's other major appearance, in the novel The Valley of Fear: "Is he not the celebrated author of The Dynamics of an Asteroid, a book which ascends to such rarefied heights of pure mathematics that it is said that there was no man in the scientific press capable of criticising it? Is this a man to traduce? Foul-mouthed doctor and slandered professor - such would be your respective roles! That's genius, Watson."

But here, Moriarty's genius is legal. Dr Watson has just described him as the "famous scientific criminal", to which Holmes responds: "But in calling Moriarty a criminal you are uttering libel in the eyes of the law - and there lie the glory and the wonder of it!"

Genius is a consistent feature of Moriarty's real-life models. Holmes experts are divided on a single inspiration for the bad professor, but besides the actual "Napoleon of crime", Adam Worth, there was Simon Newcomb, an eccentric genius in several fields and a first-class rotter.

The clearest proof of Moriarty's genius is that Arthur Conan Doyle created him specifically to do away with Holmes, and that Holmes respected him above all others: "I tell you, Watson, in all seriousness, that if I could beat that man, if I could free society of him, I should feel that my own career had reached its summit, and I should be prepared to turn to some more placid line in life."

Holmes even confessed that he would accept destruction at Moriarty's hands if it would mean an end to his inglorious career. I will leave the epitaph to Baker Street's finest: "He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them."