Reviewed by Matt McCaffrey
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Reviewed - The Great Game
A Professor Moriarty Novel
With any Sherlock Holmes pastiche, or for that matter, any literature related to the adventures of the Great Consulting Detective, my expectations are quite high.  I tend to look for a story that illuminates Sherlock Holmes' deductive prowess, while at the same time provides an interesting story. In the case of Michael Kurland's The Great Game, I felt that these expectations were only partially met. While both Holmes and Watson are portrayed in the manner in which most Sherlockians know them, the pair only begin to play a significant role in the latter half of the story. However, it is obvious that Mr. Kurland has done some serious canonical homework as there are "sprinklings" of past Holmes adventures throughout this narrative.

The majority of the story takes place in Austria in the year 1891, and revolves around a number of clandestine groups engaging in anarchist activities, including assassination, to disrupt the prevailing political climate with the ultimate goal of establishing a master race, led by
The Knights of Wotan, as the ruling class of Europe.
Image copyright © Minotaur Books 2001
Throughout the story, these groups are penetrated by a number of individuals including the son of a British duke, a distant female cousin of Sherlock Holmes, and the Master Detective himself, in independent activities designed to expose a variety of surreptitious undertakings.

While the master plot is being executed by the anarchists, a couple (the Barnetts), who happen to be friends of Professor Moriarty, are drawn into the game while ostensibly holidaying in Europe. They are befriended by a mysterious couple who are not what they seem. After parting with this couple, the Barnetts take a fateful boat ride upon Lake Como. It is this boat ride that sets the stage for some very interesting events.   

While the Barnetts are dealing with their misadventure, the duke’s son is arrested for a series of murders, and Moriarty is engaged by the duke to attempt to secure his release from the Austrian police authorities. To do so, the Professor poses as a noble clairvoyant in order to learn more of the arrest. Under this guise, he also learns that his friends, the Barnetts, are now in dire trouble and require his immediate assistance.

While Professor Moriarty is fulfilling his obligation to the duke, Sherlock Holmes is simultaneously engaged by the Internal Security Council of Austria's Emperor (Franz Josef) to expose the anarchists’ grand plans. He later receives a puzzling letter, and in true Holmesian fashion, he deduces its true contents in a singular manner. He learns that his cousin is being held against her wishes in coincidentally the same castle as the Barnetts.

The name of Sherlock's cousin is Jenny Vernet, who was born in San Francisco but moved to London in her teens. Her role is an interesting one in which she poses as a talented opera singer while befriending one of the major protagonists of this tale. Interestingly, she becomes integrally involved as a spy in this spider web plot via direction from Sherlock Holmes' brother, Mycroft. Here, we see a softer side of Sherlock as he expresses his fondness for (gasp!) a female.

At this point of the story, Holmes meets Moriarty by chance, whereupon they join forces to implement a combined rescue. This rescue is for two parties: Holmes' cousin and Moriarty's friends, the Barnetts. However, after the rescue attempt, their newfound, yet reluctant, confederacy was not yet to be dissolved. They again collaborate to thwart the denouement of the Knights’ campaign to rule Europe. A rather innocent action by Watson during the final series of events turns out to be a significant one, and true to form, he is portrayed in a bumbling, yet comical fashion. Rather than Holmes berating him for his clumsiness, Moriarty praises him for his actions.

Oddly enough, the climax of this story occurs on April 24, 1891, the exact same date when Holmes strode into Watson’s consulting room to begin the saga of
The Final Problem, which is of course a well known event among Sherlockians.

For a reading which proclaimed itself to be "
A Professor Moriarty Novel", no significant appearance of Sherlock Holmes' criminal nemesis occurs until Chapter Ten (a third of the way into the book), with the exception of the Prologue and a brief mention in Chapter 2. As the story unfolds, Sherlock and the Professor collaborate to prevent the potential political disaster for Europe. While some book reviewers hail this collaboration as an interesting twist on the perpetual conflict between Holmes and Moriarty, I personally did not enjoy it. Although not necessarily a purist of the Sherlock Holmes canonical series, I nevertheless believe that this antagonistic relationship between the two should not be tainted in any matter. I prefer my heroes to be "heroes" and my villains to be "villains".

While I initially found the book to be a very slow read (in fact, a struggle) due to unnecessary detail, the pace was accelerated in the latter half. Holmes’ deductive skill set is finally employed (which I longed for throughout the entire reading) near the end of the book. However, I found that his deductive brilliance was largely undermined as several of the characters (e.g., a moneylender, Moriarty and Barnett's wife) introduced earlier in the book also displayed their own unique brand of deduction.

Nevertheless, this book will present an interesting read for most as one can often feel the tension between Moriarty and Holmes, and will most certainly enjoy the many ironies throughout.
The Great Game
Minotaur Books
Hardcover  - 288 pages
Matt McCaffrey is an active and long-time member of The Singular Society of the Baker Street Dozen in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. When not trotting the globe on business, Matt is an enthusiastic Sherlockian, this is his first review for this site.
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