Thursday, October 30, 2014

Alex's Con Season Guide


The term "con season" gives me chills - mainly because I think it's a misnomer, at least in the comics world that takes up my day job hours. There's no "season" anymore - we have conventions all through the year. We're at a "lull" now - New York Comic Con has come and gone and we probably won't see another show until 2015. But as that lull begins, another "season" kicks off - for crime writers! Or for me, at least. 

Like some authors, I'll be attending the great Murder & Mayhem in Milwaukee event this weekend. There's also NoirCon going on in Philly at the same time. Later this month, it's Bouchercon 2014: Murder at the Beach, or as I refer to it when explaining it to my comic book industry friends "It's the San Diego Comic-Con for crime/mystery people."

I know I've talked about blurbs, panels and stuff like that in my earlier blog posts but Kristi's note about Bouchercon got me thinking that it might be good to put together some tips for events like these. 

Now, to be clear, this is my first Bouchercon as a published author. That being said, I've been going to conventions - comic book, book industry and the like - for about a decade. Your mileage may vary on the notes below, but they're just some general bits of advice for authors when participating in conventions like these.

Be nice. My rule of thumb for pretty much everything. "Please" and "Thank you" go a long way in any arena, but especially in one where people are working behind the scenes to make you, as an author, look good.

Be professional. That applies to a lot of things, but mainly - be on time/show up for panels or commitments, don't dress like you just rolled out of bed and be somewhat cheerful - these people are either working on this event to help you out or are attending an event hoping for a positive interaction with you, the author. I personally hate being late - but it happens. At Long Beach Comic Con, I had three back-to-back panels, with about 30 minutes of overlap. I had six panels that day, plus a signing. It was insane. It required me to leave a panel early, come to a panel late and then rush to the next panel. I felt bad doing it, but I tried my best to explain that my schedule was nuts and that I was sorry. Did it work? I hope so. The panels were fun and the panelists were fine with or without me. My point is, by being professional you can make up for any issues that may arise. Stuck in traffic? Call ahead to let people know. Scheduling snafu? Make it clear to the people that matter that you're willing to do the best you can to make it work, but you're dealing with some unforeseen stuff. Communicate. It's important and people will appreciate it.

Promote yourself beforehand, during and after. You can't complain about attendance at an event if you didn't promote it. I've had events where three people showed up - and hey, what can you do? That's just how the day went. But the event was promoted and people knew about it. On the flip side, I've had packed events and panels where I knew promoting the event with time was a factor in getting people to show up. And, going back to "be nice" - it never hurts to let the organizers or bookseller know you appreciated them having you. It'll probably help your chances of being invited back. In terms of promoting beforehand, make sure your social media is queued up at the right times, loop in your book publicist so they can promo via their channels and be consistent - don't just blast out your info once and hope it catches everyone. That being said, don't SPAM people, either. A post a day in the days leading up to an event is perfectly reasonable, assuming you're talking about other stuff on your platform, too.

Engage with people - fans, publicists, editors, press. People come to these shows for access. To talk to authors, let them know what they think of their work and to see them in action. While networking with fellow authors is important (as I'll explain later), there are a ton of other people at the show that would love a bit of your time - whether it's a few minutes while you're signing or a quick conversation while in line at Starbucks. Look, I know this can be weird at times - "I was just waiting for my cab!" - but fans are here for the experience, and as strange as it might seem to think someone would be starstruck by seeing you, this event is all about meeting people fans admire. So why not give them a minute or two? It could make an existing fan's day and also motivate them to suggest your work to another, and so on. Plus - you never know who you're talking to. It might be an editor at a publishing company you want to work for, a reporter for a major publication or a big tastemaker/blogger. Always err on the side of being nice. Notice a theme here?

Pace yourself. Eat regular meals. Try to get some sleep. Give yourself an hour or two during the madness to sit quietly by yourself or have a few minutes, as a friend of mine put it to me this week, "to walk around your hotel room barefoot." Cons are marathons - sometimes they can make you feel anxious, out of sorts and wiped. Try your best to prevent that by giving yourself some time to catch your breath and reconnect with yourself. Zen, right? Trust me, you can't overstate the value of a quiet cup of coffee amidst the insanity of a huge convention.

Network! Have fun! Author events and conventions are cool because other authors will be there. Other, solitary writers are coming into the light! Talk to them - ask questions, share experiences and have a good time. These things are supposed to be pleasant, so let off some steam and enjoy the company of people you've probably only networked with over Facebook or email. Who knows - you might get a new connection or find out some useful industry information while enjoying yourself. If not, you at least had fun and made some new friends who are in the trenches with you. Also, attend panels you're interested in. Listen to other authors talk. Let yourself be reminded why you do what you do. 

Last, but certainly not least: Don't be a dick. Should be self-explanatory.

See you in the book room!


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Paid Blog Tours: Yes or No?

by Holly West

In preparing for the publication of Mistress of Fortune earlier this year, I wondered if I should book a paid blog tour. In truth, I wouldn't have considered it at all--I'd already put together a blog tour of my own by contacting various blogs (mostly written by people I already knew) and scheduled a series of interviews and guest posts. I figured that would be enough.

But when the subject of blog tours and marketing came up on the Carina Press author loop, my ears perked up. One of their more successful authors mentioned that she'd booked a cover reveal "tour" months in advance of the publication of her latest title. She said it had resulted in 300+ GoodReads "adds." She had a blog tour scheduled for dates surrounding the actual publication of the book, but all I had was my little DIY blog tour. It made me think that I should've planned the promotion of my launch better, but by that time, it was too late.

That said, I was very pleased with the tour I put together myself. The contacts I'd made in the crime fiction world really came through for me and while it was a lot of work, I enjoyed writing the posts and answering interview questions. But had I done enough?

The second book in my series, Mistress of Lies, was scheduled to come out on September 29, 2014, and this time I started planning my promotion well in advance by booking a cover reveal and blog tour. My rationale was that with the first book, I'd done a good job reaching out to the crime fiction community, but I hadn't done enough to get the word out to other reading communities--historical fiction, in particular. I knew I needed to expand my audience as much as possible.

While I paid for these promotions out of my own pocket, my publisher also paid for a tour to promote several mystery titles that they were publishing on the same date. My own book tour included a high end giveaway, which again, I paid for myself. My hope was that somehow, eventually, these upfront expenses would pay off in sales.

So, did they?

Probably not. I say "probably" because up to now they haven't, but who knows how this promotion will affect future sales? Will there be enough over time to justify the expense incurred by both myself and my publisher? I'm thinking it's doubtful.

This post isn't meant to be pessimistic, but I want to be honest about the results I got from booking a paid tour. There's no question that I achieved a bit more reach (and a few new readers) by participating in a tour. I got some additional reviews, which I'm very thankful for. As they say, every little bit counts.

The problem with paid blog tours, I think, is that they are more about the give-aways than they are about the books. People establish Twitter accounts for the sole purpose of following and re-tweeting give-aways. It feels generic and impersonal and the actual book gets lost in the shuffle.

The draw for authors is that they seem like a relatively inexpensive way to get the word out. And I suppose that's true, to an extent. Marketing efforts often feel like you're throwing strands of spaghetti against a wall to see what sticks, so depending on your budget, you try everything you can think of.

In my honest opinion, blog tours don't stick.

Have you ever participated in a blog tour? What was your experience?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

All Of The News. All Of It.

Jay Stringer

So there's quite a lot for me to update you guys on.

Firstly, since we last spoke I signed a new book deal. Ways To Die In Glasgow will be out next year -probably around May or June- from Thomas & Mercer. This deal sees me moving to work with the UK team after three books with the Seattle folks, so I'm looking forward to seeing where this goes.

The book itself is my first set in Glasgow. It took me a long time before I felt like I could, or should, set a book here. The city has it's own distinct attitude and voice, and a whole load of political and cultural tics that people on the outside don't really understand.

It's not only the setting that's different. The book is a departure from the tone and structure of the Miller Trilogy. It's a (very) dark comedy, with lots of violence and more than a little arson. It was exactly the book I needed to write after spending three novels in Eoin Miller's head.

This is how super agent, who is better than me at the whole "describing" thing, pitches the book;

..a dark but farcical crime novel featuring a reluctant female P.I., her gay brother, a gangland legend writing his memoirs, an ex-con with an anger management problem, his overly sympathetic psychologist, and a less-than-perfect cop.

We start the production phase of the book next month, with the copy edits and then the cover treatments, so I'll bring you more news when I have it.

Next month also sees me attend Bouchercon for the first time, and there are another couple of firsts that come with that.

On the Thursday I'll be taking part in my very first Noir At The Bar, in Regency C from 5:30-6:30. There's a book giveaway, and some of my favourite authors will be showing me up by giving much better readings than me.



Then on Sunday morning, bleary eyed but full of opinions, I'll be doing my first ever panel.  Short And Sweet, a discussion of why we like writing and reading short fiction, in Regency D from 10 AM. Moderated by Clare Toohey, the panel is also made up of John Shepphird, Michael Stanley, Steve Steinbock and Brian Thornton.

Come. Buy me drinks. Give me praise. Throw chairs at me.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Interesting 2015 releases

Simple post that doesn't need much preamble. In no particular order here are some of the 2015 releases that I'm looking forward to:


The Mercy of the Night by David Corbett

When she was eight years old, Jacquelina Garza was the second of two nearly identical girls abducted by a child predator in the northern California town of Rio Mirada. Three days after her disappearance, Jacqi managed to escape—physically, at least.

Ten years later, she's climbing out of the crater her life has become. In the aftermath of her abductor's trial, her life spiraled out of control, until, at age sixteen, she was working the streets, hustling everyone in her life—and protecting a very dangerous secret.

A counselor named Lonnie Bachmann tries to help, but she insists on honesty—and Jacqi knows the truth is unforgiving. She vanishes again, this time with the intention of scrabbling up $2,000 so she can leave town forever and make a new life in Mexico.

Lonnie, aware she pushed Jacqi too hard, enlists the aid of Phelan Tierney—a former litigator with ghosts of his own, who now works as a kind of "twenty-first-century handyman," helping people who hope to start their lives over. He was tutoring Jacqi for the GED when she disappeared, and Lonnie asks him to find her, urge her to come back.

Tierney soon realizes that, as over-exposed as Jacqi's life has been, something crucial remains untold. And he feels a special commitment to helping her brave that truth. But Jacqi's been manipulated, betrayed, and preyed upon by an army of people who "only had her best interests at heart," including her criminally-connected family.

Worse, just as Tierney makes contact with Jacqi, she's once again drawn into a case that threatens to tear Rio Mirada apart: The murder of Mike Verrazzo, former head of the firefighter's union and the man everyone blames for driving Rio Mirada into financial chaos. Jacqi was there when he was killed, but no one, not even the police—for reasons that go back a decade—want her anywhere near a witness stand.

The Mercy of the Night offers a story of one girl's personal redemption amid a clash of convenient lies and difficult truths, set in an American Everytown midway between the tony wealth of Napa and the shimmering towers of San Francisco.



The Winter Family by Clifford Jackman

Tracing a group of ruthless outlaws from its genesis during the American Civil War all the way to a final bloody stand in the Oklahoma territories, The Winter Family is a hyperkinetic Western noir that reads like a full-on assault to the senses.

Spanning the better part of three decades, The Winter Family traverses America's harsh, untamed terrain, both serving and opposing the fierce advance of civilization. Among its twisted specimens, the Winter Family includes the psychopathic killer Quentin Ross, the mean and moronic Empire brothers, the impassive ex-slave Fred Johnson, and the dangerous child prodigy Lukas Shakespeare But at the malevolent center of this ultraviolent storm is their cold, hardened leader, Augustus Winter—a man with an almost pathological resistance to the rules of society and a preternatural gift for butchery.

From their service as political thugs in a brutal Chicago election to their work as bounty hunters in the deserts of Arizona, there's a hypnotic logic to Winter's grim borderland morality that plays out, time and again, in ruthless carnage.

With its haunting, hard-edged style, The Winter Family is a feverishly paced meditation on human nature and the dark contradictions of progress.

Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy

A masterly work of literary journalism about a senseless murder, a relentless detective, and the great plague of homicide in America

On a warm spring evening in South Los Angeles, a young man is shot and killed on a sidewalk minutes away from his home, one of the thousands of black Americans murdered that year. His assailant runs down the street, jumps into an SUV, and vanishes, hoping to join the scores of killers in American cities who are never arrested for their crimes.

But as soon as the case is assigned to Detective John Skaggs, the odds shift.

Here is the kaleidoscopic story of the quintessential, but mostly ignored, American murder—a “ghettoside” killing, one young black man slaying another—and a brilliant and driven cadre of detectives whose creed is to pursue justice for forgotten victims at all costs. Ghettoside is a fast-paced narrative of a devastating crime, an intimate portrait of detectives and a community bonded in tragedy, and a surprising new lens into the great subject of why murder happens in our cities—and how the epidemic of killings might yet be stopped.


Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link

She has been hailed by Michael Chabon as “the most darkly playful voice in American fiction”; by Neil Gaiman as “a national treasure”; and by Karen Russell as “Franz Kafka with a better understanding of ladies’ footwear and bad first dates.” Now Kelly Link’s eagerly awaited new collection—her first for adult readers in a decade—proves indelibly that this bewitchingly original writer is among the finest we have.

Link has won an ardent following for her ability, with each new short story, to take readers deeply into an unforgettable, brilliantly constructed fictional universe. The nine exquisite examples in this collection show her in full command of her formidable powers. In “The Summer People,” a young girl in rural North Carolina serves as uneasy caretaker to the mysterious, never-quite-glimpsed visitors who inhabit the cottage behind her house. In “I Can See Right Through You,” a middle-aged movie star takes a disturbing trip to the Florida swamp where his former on- and off-screen love interest is shooting a ghost-hunting reality show. In “The New Boyfriend,” a suburban slumber party takes an unusual turn, and a teenage friendship is tested, when the spoiled birthday girl opens her big present: a life-size animated doll.

Hurricanes, astronauts, evil twins, bootleggers, Ouija boards, iguanas, The Wizard of Oz, superheroes, the Pyramids . . . These are just some of the talismans of an imagination as capacious and as full of wonder as that of any writer today. But as fantastical as these stories can be, they are always grounded by sly humor and an innate generosity of feeling for the frailty—and the hidden strengths—of human beings. In Get in Trouble, this one-of-a-kind talent expands the boundaries of what short fiction can do.



Concrete Angel by Patricia Abbott

An atmospheric and eagerly awaited debut novel from acclaimed crime writer Patricia Abbott, set in Philadelphia in the 1970s about a family torn apart by a mother straight out of Mommie Dearest, and her children who are at first victims but soon learn they must fight back to survive. Eve Moran has always wanted “things” and has proven both inventive and tenacious in getting and keeping them. Eve lies, steals, cheats, swindles, and finally commits murder, paying little heed to the cost of her actions on those who love her. Her daughter, Christine, compelled by love, dependency, and circumstance, is caught up in her mother’s deceptions, unwilling to accept the viciousness that runs in her mother's blood. Eve’s powers of seduction are hard to resist for those who come in contact with her toxic allure. It’s only when Christine’s three-year old brother, Ryan, begins to prove useful to her mother, and she sees a pattern repeating itself, that Christine finds the courage and means to bring an end to Eve’s tyranny. An unflinching novel about love, lust, and greed that runs deep within our bones, Patricia Abbott cements herself as one of our very best writers of domestic suspense.


Company Town by Madeline Ashby

They call it Company Town – a Family-owned city-sized oil rig off the coast of the Canadian Maritimes.

Meet Hwa. One of the few in her community to forego bio-engineered enhancements, she’s the last truly organic person left on the rig. But she’s an expert in the arts of self-defence, and she’s been charged with training the Family’s youngest, who has been receiving death threats – seemingly from another timeline.

Meanwhile, a series of interconnected murders threatens the city’s stability – serial killer? Or something much, much worse..?



The Valley by John Renehan

A former Army Captain’s gripping portrait of a fighting division holding a remote outpost in Afghanistan reminiscent of Apocalypse Now, The Yellow Birds, and Matterhorn

There were many valleys in the mountains of Afghanistan, and most were hard places where people died hard deaths. But there was only one Valley. Black didn’t even know its proper name. But he knew about the Valley. It was the farthest, and the hardest, and the worst. It lay deeper and higher in the mountains than any other place Americans had ventured. You had to travel through a network of interlinked valleys, past all the other remote American outposts, just to get to its mouth. Stories circulated periodically, tales of land claimed and fought for, or lost and overrun, new attempts made or turned back, outposts abandoned and reclaimed. They were impossible to verify. Everything about the Valley was myth and rumor.

The strung-out platoon Black finds after traveling deep into the heart of the Valley, and the illumination of the dark secrets accumulated during month after month fighting and dying in defense of an indefensible piece of land, provide a shattering portrait of men at war.


Green Hell by Ken Bruen

In the new novel Green Hell, Bruen’s dark angel of a protagonist has again hit rock bottom: one of his best friends is dead, the other has stopped speaking to him; he has given up battling his addiction to alcohol and pills; and his firing from the Irish national police, the Guards, is ancient history. But Jack isn’t about to embark on a self-improvement plan. Instead, he has taken up a vigilante case against a respected professor of literature at the University of Galway who has a violent habit his friends in high places are only too happy to ignore. And when Jack rescues a preppy American student on a Rhodes Scholarship from a couple of kid thugs, he also unexpectedly gains a new sidekick, who abandons his thesis on Beckett to write a biography of Galway’s most magnetic rogue.

Between pub crawls and violent outbursts, Jack’s vengeful plot against the professor soon spirals toward chaos. Enter Emerald, an edgy young Goth who could either be the answer to Jack’s problems, or the last ripped stitch in his undoing. Ireland may be known as a “green Eden,” but in Jack Taylor’s world, the national color has a decidedly lethal sheen.


The Marauders by Tom Cooper

When the BP oil spill devastates the Gulf coast, those who made a living by shrimping find themselves in dire straits. For the oddballs and lowlifes who inhabit the sleepy, working class bayou town of Jeannette,  these desperate circumstances serve as the catalyst that pushes them to enact whatever risky schemes they can dream up to reverse their fortunes. At the center of it all is Gus Lindquist, a pill-addicted, one armed treasure hunter obsessed with finding the lost treasure of pirate Jean Lafitte. His quest brings him into contact with a wide array of memorable characters, ranging from a couple of small time criminal potheads prone to hysterical banter, to the smooth-talking Oil company middleman out to bamboozle his own mother, to some drug smuggling psychopath twins, to a young man estranged from his father since his mother died in Hurricane Katrina. As the story progresses, these characters find themselves on a collision course with each other, and as the tension and action ramp up, it becomes clear that not all of them will survive these events.


The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar

They never meant to be heroes.

For seventy years they guarded the British Empire. Oblivion and Fogg, inseparable friends, bound together by a shared fate. Until one night in Berlin, in the aftermath of the Second World War, and a secret that tore them apart.

But there must always be an account...and the past has a habit of catching up to the present.

Now, recalled to the Retirement Bureau from which no one can retire, Fogg and Oblivion must face up to a past of terrible war and unacknowledged heroism, - a life of dusty corridors and secret rooms, of furtive meetings and blood-stained fields - to answer one last, impossible question:

What makes a hero?


Soul Standard by Richard Thomas, Caleb Ross, Axel Taiari, Nik Korpon

The economy has fallen, and flesh is worth more than dollars. Across four different districts of the City, a desperate banker must keep his employer happy at any cost, a boxer must choose between honor and the woman he loves, a criminal must atone for his past, and a man with a terrifying condition searches desperately for his missing daughter.
The Whites by Harry Brandt (aka Richard Price)

Back in the run-and-gun days of the mid-90s, when Billy Graves worked in the South Bronx as part of an anti-crime unit known as the Wild Geese, he made headlines by accidentally shooting a 10-year-old boy while stopping an angel-dusted berserker in the street. Branded as a cowboy by his higher-ups, for the next eighteen years Billy endured one dead-end posting after another. Now in his early forties, he has somehow survived and become a sergeant in Manhattan Night Watch, a small team of detectives charged with responding to all night-time felonies from Wall Street to Harlem.

Night Watch usually acts a set-up crew for the day shift, but when Billy is called to a 4:00 a.m. fatal slashing of a man in Penn Station, his investigation of the crime moves beyond the usual handoff. And when he discovers that the victim was once a suspect in the unsolved murder of a 12-year-old boy—a brutal case with connections to the former members of the Wild Geese—the bad old days are back in Billy's life with a vengeance, tearing apart enduring friendships forged in the urban trenches and even threatening the safety of his family.

What 2015 releases are you looking forward to?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Bouchercon Virgin Pleads for Advice


The title is misleading. I'm not only a Bouchercon virgin, I'm a mystery conference virgin in general.

But all that will change in one week.

Next week I'm on my very first panel at Murder & Mayhem in Milwaukee. It should be a piece of cake since it is a one day event. However, a little over a week later I'm off to the four-day extravaganza we call Bouchercon. This year it is in Long Beach, the place of so many memories for me. (See here.)

Here are the problems* I'm anticipating and I welcome any advice on them:

INTROVERTS NEED NOT APPLY. I've been worrying a little bit about how a fairly introverted writer like myself can possibly be social and witty and charming for four days straight. (I can't.) I will need to go lock myself in a small room by myself periodically to recharge. And that's okay. I'm assuming it's okay to go AWOL during the conference.

BARTENDER I'LL HAVE ANOTHER. Since I first heard about Bouchercon, I've been told that most of the socializing goes on in the bar. Now, I love my booze. But I also have a teeny tiny problem that sometimes crops up when I drink - migraines. Sometimes I can drink four vodkas and wake up as cheery as WHO ON WHO. Other times, I have one drink and it triggers a puking-all-day-long, hiding-from-the-light-like-a-vampire, skull crushing migraine that lasts 12 hours. In this area, I guess all I can do is hope for the best.

LA BELLA FIGURA. I've been fretting for months about my wardrobe. I had a veteran, very distinguished and accomplished mystery writer take me under his wing and warn me to not dress in jeans at BCon. He suggested I dress as professionally as possible. I have a cute collection of dresses to wear based on his advice, but now I also don't want to look OVERDRESSED. Quelle horreur! In addition, I've been invited to a HarperCollins cocktail party (Swoon!) and now have to bring a LBD. I love dressing nice, but I also want to fit in.

BOOKS. At first I was worried about how I was going to get all the books home I would buy at BCon. (No worries, they ship.) But now I'm worried about how my bank account is going to recover from this book orgy.

FOOT IN MOUTH. Some people ask if I'm like my character, Gabriella. In some ways, yes. In some ways, no. One way I'm a little like her but much, much worse, is having the knack of making a fool of myself. I'm petrified I'm going to say something totally asinine to somebody like Stephen King or something. 

Anyway, that's just a smidgen of the things I'm worried about and welcome advice on from any veteran BCon attendees.


* The word “Problems” is utterly misleading. I am not a diva. This entire post is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek!


Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Pulp Era Comes to Colorful Life

By
Scott D. Parker

One of my favorite websites is  Shorpy's. It's a curated website chock full of old photos, mostly black and white. It's a snapshot into our past world. These images are utterly fantastic and I look forward to looking at the new one each day. I have bookmarked a number of them for inspiration for my stories.

One image in particular really captured my imagination. Here it is. 



Here is the original link.

On the surface, it's two ladies letting their eyes surf over all those selections of the current pulp magazines. In an era where no TV existed for the public, entertainment via pulp magazines was prevalent. It wasn't until this image was posted that I got a look at what a typical newsstand actually looked like.

But then, the good folks at Shorpy's did something wonderful: they colorized the image! When this image landed in my Feedly feed this week, I literally gasped. How frigging cool is this picture.

 

Here is the link. 

But Shorpy's didn't just break out a pack of crayons. No, they spent a year researching the actual covers shown in this image. You can read about the research here. The result is stunning, especially for all of us born too late to live through the glory days of pulp fiction.

Be sure to head over to the website and gaze upon the high res version. Then just drool.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Moriarty: The Man We Never Knew


John Connolly’s novella, The Caxton Book Depositary and Lending Library (collected in Death Sentences, edited by Otto Penzler) posits an intriguing idea: that somewhere out there, some literary creations shave become so embedded in public consciousness that they have quite literally come to life. As we are guided through the Library where these creations come to live, we meet Sherlock Holmes, sitting in his room, smoking a pipe and pondering on whatever mysteries he can. But one imagines that elsewhere in that building, there would be a place for his greatest adversary, Professor James Moriarty

Such is the association of Moriarty with the great Consulting Detective that one might easily believe the pair spent decades locked in combat. The rebooted BBC TV series, Sherlock, is obsessed with the character, going so far as to apparently resurrect him a mere three episodes after his alleged death.  But Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss are not alone in obsessing over the “Napoleon of Crime.” The professor’s own story will be told in the new Anthony Horowitz-penned novel, Moriarty (due in October 2014).  He is Holmes’s greatest adversary, and yet he appeared only a few times in the Holmesian canon as written by Arthur Conan Doyle. And one could easily make the case, looking at the evidence, that Doyle was not as enamoured with the professor as others would come to be. Certainly not enough to give the man a consistent backstory or even place within the canon.

When the police went looking, Moriarty wasn’t there…

Forgive the poor homage to TS Elliot, but in many ways – both in the fictional world of Holmes’s London, and on the page of Doyle’s literary canon – MacAvity and Moriarty share this particular trait. The professor is rarely seen on the page. Indeed, Watson – the narrator of all but one Holmes story – only glimpses him in the distance during the Reichenbach Falls incident, where both Holmes and Moriarty plunged to their apparent deaths. Moriarty is a manipulator. He is a source of criminal activity but rarely directly linked to specific crimes. He is a spider at the centre of a vast web, a manifestation of our fears about organised crime. He is a bogey-man. A ghost, if you will. And the very fact that we know so little about him is exactly why he is so appealing. The mystery surrounding Moriarty is tantalising. How can a man be so powerful when we know so little about who he is and what drives him?

Rewriting History

Moriarty first appeared in The Final Problem. Holmes has realised that the wave of criminality he has recently encountered can all be traced back to one mastermind: Professor Moriarty. His influence revealed, Moriarty vows that Holmes will die if he continues to interfere. His appearance is sudden and unexpected. There is the sense that here is an enemy finally worthy of Holmes; someone who could prove to be his equal. Someone whom we had never seen before. That he dies at the end shows that Conan Doyle intended him to be a one off creation. By creating a man who was Holmes’s equal in every way, he was able to create something that could off the Great Detective in an appropriate and resolutely final matter. Moriarty was the mirror of Holmes, right down to the fact that he employed a right hand man to mirror the Watson/Holmes dynamic. The idea was that Moriarty and Holmes were so equally matched that there could be no winner when they met. Neither man could walk away. They were the unstoppable force and the immoveable object. They cancelled each other out. That was how Doyle thought he could ensure the end of Holmes.

His one and only appearance should have been the end. But then, it should have been the end of Holmes, too.

But as so often happens in popular fiction, the readers demanded more. Conan Doyle had already brought Holmes back from the dead. So he returned Moriarty to the page one more time. But not in the way that many might have expected.

The only novel-length Holmes tale to feature Moriarty was set earlier in the Holmes canon. The Valley of Fear – which is perhaps only nominally a Holmes story, taking place as much of it does in the US – finds Moriarty being acknowledged by Holmes as a genius before Holmes himself claimed to know of Moriarty’s existence. Even Watson knows the name Moriarty, despite admitting during the Falls incident that he had never heard of the man before. The Valley of Fear is also the book where Moriarty finally gains a first name.

Many things in The Valley of Fear contradict or sit uneasily with what had come before beyond Holmes and Watson’s apparent foresight regarding the man. For example, when Moriarty is encountered in The Final Problem, he is given no first name, but his brother is referred to as “James Moriarty”. It is certainly possible (but improbable) that both children were called James, but the likelihood of such an occurrence is very small indeed. And while Holmes may allow himself to entertain the improbable, most authors do their best to avoid it.

To modern eyes such contradictions can lead to a lot of headscratching and mental gymnastics as we try to put all the pieces together in a way that allows us to make sense of it all and build a solidly canonical picture of the villainous Professor. And yet, somehow, to so many people, he feels real.  There is clearly something special about the character; something essential that transcends biography and continuity. Moriarty is perhaps not so powerful as a character but as an archetype.

Mirror, Mirror

It is the essence of Moriarty rather than the details of his life that has earned him a place in the public’s imagination.  Moriarty is a twisted reflection of our hero; something he has in common with many of the greatest villains in crime fiction. He becomes a threat because we already know that there are very few people Holmes respects intellectually. In order to earn such a status, a person would have to be very special indeed.

He is a man of good birth and excellent education, endowed by nature with a phenomenal mathematical faculty. At the age of twenty-one he wrote a treatise upon the binomial theorem which has had a European vogue. On the strength of it, he won the mathematical chair at one of our smaller universities, and had, to all appearances, a most brilliant career before him. But the man had hereditary tendencies of the most diabolical kind. A criminal strain ran in his blood, which, instead of being modified, was increased and rendered infinitely more dangerous by his extraordinary mental powers. Dark rumours gathered round him in the University town, and eventually he was compelled to resign his chair and come down to London. He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organiser of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city...

Holmes’s description of Moriarty in The Final Problem is expositional, and yet there runs through it a kind of admiration. One can imagine the excitement in Holmes’s voice as he reaches the end of his thought: He is the Napoleon of Crime. He is a great man. A worthy opponent. And that it has taken Holmes so long to realise this only adds to his admiration of Moriarty.

Like Holmes, Moriarty is described as having a “high, domed forehead”. In Conan Doyle’s day, this was considered a sign of great intellect and again adds to the point of similarity between Holmes and his opponent, marking them as equals intellectually.

Absence makes the heart…

The true appeal of Moriarty, like all great villains, lies in the rarity of his appearance. A villain easily defeated time and again, such as the Daleks in Doctor Who or the Joker in Batman, quickly loses their threat. Moriarty appeared only twice in the Holmesian canon (and both times, mostly off-page). His power lies in the fact that we know so little about him that it becomes almost impossible to predict what he will do. Those who overuse him in the rash of Holmes pastiches and reinventions that have become prevalent in modern publishing do so at their peril.


Horowitz’s new book will be interesting, especially if we see more of Moriarty on the page than we have done before. It is not a Holmes story, of course, but rather a speculation on the truth behind the fate of Moriarty. It includes characters from Holmes’s world, but not Holmes himself. It is not a Holmes novel, but looks set to expand on Conan Doyle’s universe. I do have to wonder, though, whether the book will be able to top Kim Newman’s riotously tongue-in-cheek novel, Moriarty: The Hound of the D’U’rbervilles. In that novel, we saw Moriarty through the eyes of his “Watson”, Colonel James “Basher” Moran, as we explored the flipside of Holmes’s fictional world. The book at once reinforced and punctured the myth of Moriarty. Can Horowitz achieve something similar? Can he make us look at someone whose own myth is greater than their actual achievements with a fresh set of eyes? Can he escape the clich├ęs that have built themselves up around the character? Can he make Moriarty as credible as he was in the original canon? I don’t know. But I’m looking forward to finding out.