A Thought on the Ending of “Moriarty” (Spoilers)

The ending will be spoiled. If you don’t care, read. If you do, stop and pick up the book, it’s great.

I was thinking of the ending (the main character is Moriarty in disguise and has been the mastermind behind the plan to catch Devereux) and why it didn’t truly work for me, and I think I got it. It’s not so much the twist that bothered me; a similar twist was pulled off in “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” by Agatha Christie, and I love that book. But there is one very, very important difference between that book and this one:

The villain lost.

We end this story with Jones dead, Holmes made to look a bit dim, and Moriarty getting ready to start a new criminal empire in America. It’s fine to have the Moriarty twist, flawed as it was. I can handle that. What’s NOT fine is to have Moriarty gain such a complete victory while shitting on the Holmes canon.

What Horowitz should have done was made the reveal, then before the book ends have Moriarty get outsmarted one last time, either by Jones or perhaps by Holmes himself. If Moriarty were defeated – if the bad guy lost, or at least suffered defeat (you don’t need to necessarily even kill Moriarty, but you can at least leave Jones alive and have him capture Devereux) – then the ending is much more satisfying. As is, I feel cheated; I was told the good guys had it in the bag, and then the rug was pulled out.

What is the message here? No matter what anybody does, evil is going to win?

Because, whether he intended to or not, that’s the message Horowitz sends. What a shame – he was just one or two changes away from turning a good book into a great one.

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2 Responses to A Thought on the Ending of “Moriarty” (Spoilers)

  1. F.S. says:

    I just stumbled over your blog entry after finishing the novel and feeling the urge to discuss it with somebody who has read it as well. 🙂

    I think we should acknowledge the fact that the whole story was narrated by an unreliable narrator (Moriarty). Just as Holmes was vain and refused to acknowledge Dupin’s genius, Moriarty might have been too arrogant to acknowledge Holmes, and it makes sense that he would poke fun at Holmes as well. As things are, it strongly looks like the coughing man wasn’t only a red herring but really Holmes, who, for a reason which Moriarty didn’t understand, didn’t interfere. We can assume that Holmes did have his own agenda and decided to let the two criminal organization eliminate each other in England while leaning back and enjoying the game. Unlike Jones, Holmes knew what he was dealing with and also admitted to himself that one shouldn’t bite more than one could chew. After all, he was only one capable man against two criminal organizations. Watson, who was no longer single, had too much to lose; and Holmes might have let Moriarty do all the dirty work so that he could disappear and plot his comeback until the people close to him like Watson and Mary would be out of danger. After all, since this takes place in the canon world, Holmes did win against Sebastian Moran in the end, and we can assume that he also did beat Moriarty “off screen” or kept out of Moriarty’s schemes in America because it’s not his job to stop Moriarty there. Holmes wasn’t desperate and was patient enough to wait unlike Jones, who was too obsessed and impatient to contemplate the problem from a different angle.

    In canon, Holmes humbly admitted to have been beaten more than once in his life. Moriarty was one of the people who managed to escape the detective (not only because he was a genius as well but also because he had resources which Holmes didn’t have: a whole syndicate he could control). It makes sense that Holmes couldn’t beat Moriarty without Devereux’s help. In this case, it was a sensible decision to step back and let Moriarty destroy Devereux’s empire just as Devereux destroyed Moriarty’s empire. If Jones had been Watson, Holmes might have interfered, but Holmes wasn’t naive enough to sacrifice his own life and endanger Watson to save him.

    Moriarty was a compelling anti hero. On the one hand, he was perfectly evil and ruthless, and as smug as a narcissist can be. On the other hand, he wasn’t a sadistic psycho like his associates, only killed out of necessity, and was scrupulously polite, even displayed a gentlemanly streak at times. He was, in a sense, a victim of circumstances as well if we consider that he sort of slipped into his criminal career after losing his job at the university.

    Leaving morality aside, the ending would have been less enjoyable if Moriarty hadn’t escaped. The novel emphasized the grittiness and poverty of London Holmes’s time, and the social critique would have lost its impact if Moriarty hadn’t won. Rather than evil will always win in the end, I prefer to interpret it as the message that the poor good guys will always have difficulty to contain evil in a corrupt, unjust system.

    • I’d buy that but for one thing: Holmes would NEVER have let Jones get killed. Never. If this was his plan, he would have been keeping an eagle eye on them the entire time.

      Anyway, yeah, that’s definitely the message: The system is corrupt and unjust, even Sherlock Holmes can’t beat Moriarty, and now all of the crime is simply moving to America.

      It’s not a message I believe in.

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