Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Moriarty the Patriot
With his goals firmly established and aided by his brother Albert's political ascension to a new branch of the intelligence office, William James Moriarty is more than ready to embark on the real work of bringing down the noble classes. He decides that turning London into a terrible den of crime and iniquity is the first step, and he frames it as putting on a sort of morality play for all the land to see. And if he's creating mysteries, then he's going to need a detective – and luckily for him, a plan carried out on the luxury steamliner Noahtic provides one for him: a young man named Sherlock Holmes.
Think of the previous volume and the first three chapters of this one as the prologue for Moriarty the Patriot. When viewed in light of the fourth chapter in this second volume – which begins retelling A Study in Scarlet, the first Sherlock Holmes story published in 1887 – everything that comes before it is in service of establishing Moriarty as a criminal consultant prior to his meeting with the man who would become his nemesis. At this point it doesn't necessarily look as if they have a mutual antipathy (although we do need to remember the opening pages of volume one in that statement), but more a question of Moriarty finding Sherlock Holmes a useful player in the show he's staging for England's edification. After all, if there's a mystery, there simply must be a detective to solve it.
That play is something he lays out in the two-chapter adventure on the luxury steamliner Noahtic, which is a very thinly-veiled Titanic – even scenes set onboard the ship are recognizable from photos of the doomed vessel. This ship doesn't appear like she's going to meet a terrible fate on her maiden voyage, although the same cannot be said for the passengers. Moriarty's first scene in his crime drama (which sounds like he's relying at least a little on the themes of popular cheap Victorian entertainments such as melodramas and penny dreadfuls) is set on the ship and involves a particularly loathsome nobleman named Blitz Enders. (We can only hope that Blitz is one of those ridiculous nicknames that turn up in fiction sometimes, like “Bunchie” or “Wootsie.”) Count Enders not only so firmly believes in the superiority of the ruling class that he's willing to warp bible verses to suit himself, but he also insists on viewing the lower classes as subhuman to the point where he enjoys hunting them for sport on his estate(s). Moriarty essentially sets him up to reveal himself to the world by sacrificing a random third-class passenger on the ship, pretending to help Enders, and then (melo)dramatically staging a reveal of the man's murderous tendencies. It's prime theatre, and the fact that he happens to bump into the world's only consulting detective onboard is just the icing on the cake.
Moriarty and Holmes do form an interesting relationship from the start, with Holmes busy impressing the ladies (probably the least Holmes-like moment in the entire series thus far) by correctly guessing, or rather, deducing, people's professions by looking at them. He identifies Moriarty as a mathematician – not, it should be noted, a criminal consultant – and then Moriarty turns the whole thing around on him and correctly identifies even more things about Holmes, which impresses the other man. They seem to have a sort of mutual admiration, although Moriarty is actually figuring out how to use Holmes in his plans; that Holmes doesn't detect a whiff of suspicious behavior from the professor lays the groundwork for what the fourth chapter in this volume begins to establish: that Moriarty had been the brains behind every single case Holmes has ever investigated. More intriguingly, the series seems like it might be setting up Moriarty and Holmes as friends, which gives their later enmity an interesting angle.
Eldest brother Albert gets a bit more to do in this book, possibly at the expense of Louis, as he becomes more established in the army and in trade – two areas that, according to Arthur Conan Doyle, one of the who knows how many brothers of Professor Moriarty had been involved in. Of course he's not really part of the latter, but what that's a cover for is a lot of fun and introduces another illustrious figure from British fiction into the mix, making this seem like an origin story for pretty much all crime and spy drama. (The timing of this is a little off – the department Albert finagles his way into wasn't established until 1909, and we're somewhere between 1878 – as seen on Frieda's gravestone – and 1881, when A Study in Scarlet is set. Incidentally, by Conan Doyle's own timeline, this makes Holmes between 24 and 27 years old.) This also sets Albert up in opposition to Holmes' own older brother Mycroft, who worked in a unique branch of the civil service that Conan Doyle never named. He could also very well be in Albert's branch of military intelligence, which would make for more interesting developments in terms of how Moriarty the Patriot works with Sherlockian lore, as well as setting up two entire families operating in opposition to each other.
The history as presented here remains fairly strong, although there are a few slip-ups. The most glaring is that Louis tells his brother upon arrival in London that he'll “get a stagecoach” to take them to their destination when he ought to have “hailed a hansom” or hansom cab instead; stagecoaches were for long distances while a hansom was a taxi. Women's dresses lack the pronounced bustle of the 1870s and 1880s (interestingly, the anime adds this back in), but it's worth mentioning that there is solid evidence that ice cream like the one a child on the Noahtic is eating was in fact served in cones at this point, despite not being popularized until the early 20th century. One detail that may stand out to readers is that Holmes and Watson's landlady has changed from “Mrs. Hudson” to “Miss Hudson;” it wasn't unusual for women to use “Mrs.” as a courtesy title if they were housekeepers or landladies, though, so we should probably just be happy they didn't use the anachronistic “Ms.” Miss Hudson also bears a striking resemblance to her counterpart in the otome game London Detective Mysteria, but that's probably a coincidence.
Moriarty the Patriot continues to be solid, recognizable, and still totally original. It's a worthy entry into the pantheon of Sherlockian fiction, and the entry of Holmes and Watson onto the scene, as well as the use of A Study in Scarlet, makes it even more interesting. If you aren't a strict purist about the world of Sherlock Holmes, it's even more worth checking out in its second volume.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Begins to converge with canonical Holmes stories, brings interesting possibilities to the table.
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