Kim Newman Talks to Geek Syndicate About his Novel ‘Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the d’Urbervilles’

Imagine the twisted evil twins of Holmes and Watson and you have the dangerous duo of Prof. James Moriarty wily, snake-like, fiercely intelligent, unpredictable and Colonel Sebastian Basher Moran violent, politically incorrect, debauched.

Together they run London crime, owning police and criminals alike. Unravelling mysteries all for their own gain.

So with the  launch of his book Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the d’Urbervilles we caught up it’s creator Kin Newman, the award-winning London based author of Anno Dracula and columnist for Empire Magazine. Our mission was to find out  how  Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the d’Urbervilles came to be.

Over to you Kim.

My parents named me after a character in a Victorian popular novel.  My mother’s second favourite book was Gone With the Wind, so I narrowly escaped Rhett.  I imagine this has shaped the course of my life.

The Hound of the d’Urbervilles has been percolating a long time.  First off, to state the obvious, this book would not exist without Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Every time I went back to the source, I found minor characters he made up and dropped who could sustain an entire series (Sophy Kratides, from ‘The Greek Interpreter’, has great potential: she begins as a shrinking, abducted heroine and turns into Elektra: Assassin, polishing off villains Holmes sets free).  My grandmother Miranda Wood – who introduced me to Marvel Comics and MAD Magazine, without realising how important things she picked at random would become to me – gave me a hardback of The Complete Sherlock Holmes Short Stories for my twelfth birthday.  I still have it.  Later, the first thing I bought when I got a cheque guarantee card (remember them?) was Sabine Baring-Gould’s two-volume Annotated Sherlock Holmes.  The first Holmes novel I read was, oddly, Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper by Ellery Queen (actually, Paul W. Fairman), a canny novelisation (and expansion) of Donald and Derek Ford’s screenplay A Study in Terror.  I was aware of Peter Cushing in the 1968 BBC-TV series, but the first media Holmes I remember is Carleton Hobbs in a BBC wireless production of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Doyle invented Professor Moriarty to kill off Holmes in ‘The Final Problem’ and, ten years later, invented Sebastian Moran to bring him back in ‘The Empty House’.  This circumstance means Moriarty and Moran, supposedly partners in crime, share no scenes in the canon.  Like many arch-nemeses, Moriarty is a dark doppelganger for the hero, which hints at the notion that Moran might be his ‘Watson’ — which is present in several early plays and films.  In Silver Blaze, aka Murder at the Baskervilles, which tips the villains into an adaptation of the Moriarty-free short story (and sets it at Baskerville Hall to boot), Moran (Arthur Goullet) is plainly a sounding board and fetch-and-carry man for Moriarty (Lyn Harding).  When reviewing this minor 1937 film for Nathaniel Thompson’s DVD Delirium, I noted the Moran-as-Watson angle and mentally filed it away.  Later, Ann Kelly of BBC Online asked me to write a Holmes story (something I strictly avoided doing) and I returned to the Moran-Moriarty idea for ‘A Shambles in Belgravia’, which became a template for a series (one Doyle ‘guest star’, one other Victorian literary source, a parody title, a ‘case’ that doesn’t turn out well).  I wrote more stories, but I knew what I would end up was a novel disguised as a collection as soon as I wrote (in ‘A Volume in Vermillion’) the meeting of Moran and Moriarty and realised how this relationship would end (in ‘The Problem of the Final Adventure’) at the waterfall Doyle had Moriarty drag Holmes over (before he was persuaded to change his mind).

In writing the book, I was aware of the screen’s great Moriartys (some in not-great Holmes films and shows), all of whom filter into my version of the Napoleon of Crime: Gustav von Seyffertitz, Ernest Torrence, Lyn Harding, George Zucco, Lionel Atwill, Henry Daniell, John Huston, Laurence Olivier, Leo McKern, Viktor Yevgrafov, Eric Porter, Paul Freeman, Anthony Higgins and Vincent d’Onofrio.  There are fewer Morans to choose from, but Patrick Allen is fine opposite Jeremy Brett in The Return of Sherlock Holmes and Alan Mowbray is suitably duplicitous opposite Basil Rathbone in Terror By Night.  The too-good-to-resist notion of Holmes co-existing with characters created by other people has been around since his heyday (in Boothby’s Prince of Swindlers and C.S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew, for instance, Holmes is mentioned as a real person) but took hold in my mind thanks to Philip José Farmer’s ‘biographies’ Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage – His Apocalyptic Life, which mean more to me than anything by Edgar Rice Burroughs or Lester Dent.  A comedy sketch TV series of the early 1970s starring a forgotten Welsh double act (Ryan and Ronnie) had Holmes pursue Dracula; this may be what started me thinking along lines which would lead to the Anno Dracula and Diogenes Club books, and now this Moriarty-Moran effort.  The 1971-3 ITV series The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, based on Sir Hugh Greene’s anthologies, introduced me to the likes of Simon Carne and Carnacki the Ghost-Finder; both seasons of the show are now out on DVD and worth your while.  Would that there had been spin-off series starring Roy Dotrice and Donald Pleasence as Carne and Carnacki.

In this book, it’s been hard to avoid the long shadow of George Macdonald Fraser’s Flashman, so I should especially mention Royal Flash (and Richard Lester’s film), the Prisoner of Zenda pastiche, and ‘Flashman and the Tiger’, in which Flashman meets Moran.  Doyle’s Sebastian Moran and Fraser’s Harry Flashman have much in common: they’re both amoral rogues with a shelfload of medals, but at least Moran actually earned his gongs.

Kim Newman

Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the d’Urbervilles is available now for £7.99 from Titan Books.

GS Reporter: Nuge

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