There’s something fascinating about the way that this story is unfolding. In no small part that’s due to the way that the other characters all view William Moriarty. That’s really the focus of the second half of the third volume, a loose adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles, Conan Doyle’s third Sherlock Holmes novel. (While I admit to some disappointment that the series isn’t going fully in order, The Sign of the Four, the second novel, is particularly convoluted and might be hard to adapt.) The story develops both Fred and Louis more than they have been previously, but more importantly it looks at how both of those characters perceive William. Fred, when he discovers that the compatriots of the shipboard case’s villain are still child-hunting, isn’t sure William will want to go after them because they’ve already done that mission. Louis, meanwhile, is hurt that he isn’t invited to participate in any of the cases and feels sidelined by his brother.
Both, as it turns out, are misjudging the man who is already at risk of becoming his own legend. Will is much more compassionate than either of them give him credit for, but because of the image of the infamous Lord of Crime he’s so carefully crafting for the outside world, his adopted persona is beginning to overtake his truth even among the younger members of his family. But Will didn’t just wake up one morning and start hating the aristocracy; it was a view shaped by his years of neglect as a street child and seeing their abuses first-hand. Yes, William did turn to crime young, but that hardly makes him the exception in a world where gangs of orphaned children banded together to survive; just look at the counter-example of Holmes’ Baker Street Irregulars, kids he’s helping (while they help him) because they have so few alternatives. Those children are the lucky ones, and when Will was their age, he didn’t have that chance. Who he is today is a reaction to that childhood, something Fred is not aware of, and it’s also influencing how he tries to keep Louis safe, making sure the deeds of the Lord of Crime can’t come back on him later on.
This is, of course, something that he’s neglected to tell Louis about, as well as not considering Louis’ feelings. While Will’s motive is to continue to protect his little brother, Louis’ is to want to continue to stand by his big brother’s side, no matter what that entails. In his mind, he’s just as much in this as William and Albert, and if they can’t go on to the bright new world they’re creating, then Louis doesn’t want to either. In fact, it’s really Louis everyone should probably be afraid of, because he proves much more vicious than either of his older brothers when he finally makes William relent and let him go along. That’s not entirely surprising – he is the one who burned his own face, after all – but it’s also not something Will understands in his drive to protect him.
Another interesting piece of the puzzle is that Fred is strongly implied to have a very similar background to the two younger Moriarty brothers. Although it’s never said aloud, his drive to save the street children, even if he has to do it without William, tells the story on its own. We still don’t know how he met Moran (who has a clearer sense of being something akin to Fred’s guardian in this volume), but Fred, perhaps more than anyone, believes in what Will wants to do, and that’s very likely due to personal experience. In some ways, contrasting his actions with Louis’ when the group goes to Dartmoor to put an end to the child hunting shows us that Fred may even understand what Will is doing better than his own brother; his total refusal to leave an injured child behind despite Louis’ strong words says quite a lot about both of them, and may have implications for their characters in the future.
The idea of the past coming home to haunt the present is a major theme of volume four’s main story as well. This time it’s Colonel Moran who’s thrust into the spotlight as we’re reminded that he, like John Watson, is a veteran of the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1880). While we don’t know much of Watson’s experiences yet – hopefully we’ll learn, because this could be a very interesting link between Watson and Moran – we do find out that Moran’s service was, shall we say, severely abused. Heading up his own platoon due to his noble birth, a younger Sebastian Moran was not only a good commander, but quite happy in his work. All of that came to a terrible end when someone betrayed him, resulting in the deaths of all of his men and his own presumed demise. Military dog tags have existed since the American Civil War, so we have to assume that somehow Moran’s were lost, because when he wakes up in a field hospital, no one knows who he is. He soon learns that everyone else is dead and takes advantage of his own exaggerated deadness to go back to England; at some point shortly thereafter he ended up with the Moriarty family. Now Albert is hoping to use that link to his advantage, because someone is clearly scheming to prolong the war for their own benefit, and MI6 and Her Majesty’s government have a vested interest in that not happening. Thus, a reluctant Moran and Miss Moniepenny are dispatched to Afghanistan to sort things out.
There is something at least a little disconcerting about reading these chapters given recent events, but what quickly becomes more striking is Moran himself. William knows that Moran is still stewing over his dreadful past, not to mention that the colonel won’t be nearly as useful to the Lord of Crime if the wound is allowed to fester, so in part this is an opportunity provided by the two elder Moriartys to give him a chance for closure. Moran understands this to a degree, and he does need it, but he’s also wary of owing William and Albert (or anyone, really) too much. After all, the last time he trusted people, someone betrayed his platoon, and he has no real reason to believe that someone calling himself “the Lord of Crime” will be any different. Therefore, like with the Baskervilles storyline in volume three, these chapters really serve to remind us that William is caring beneath his bland smile. Yes, Moran will be better able to help him if he’s had his revenge (on a corrupt duke, conveniently enough), but the poor man has been haunted by the events in Afghanistan for years and deserves closure just as much as the Jeffersons and tortured children of the world.
The added bonus of the whole sequence just being a good spy caper is just a nice benefit. While, historically speaking, this is way too early for MI6 to be coming into existence, there’s something fun about the way Moriarty the Patriot is putting two of English fiction’s more famous franchises together, even if Ian Fleming’s isn’t out of copyright the same way that Arthur Conan Doyle‘s is, necessitating some silly spelling changes. (“Q” and “M” have been rewritten as “Que” and “Em.”) Moran is at his best when he’s got villains to shoot, even more impressive now that we know for certain that one of his hands is prosthetic, and giving Moniepenny a bigger role adds a needed female character to the series, at least until Irene Adler swans in, presumably in volume five. It’s a fun few chapters, still rooted in the series’ raison d’être of taking down corrupt nobles while also giving us more of a chance to think about the many and varied ways that people feel they can call themselves “patriots.”
Both of the stories in volume three have nods to Arthur Conan Doyle‘s original works, of course, and the more interesting is the eponymous Hound from The Hound of the Baskervilles. He barely appears in the story, but his look and near-silent presence ties in with the folklore Conan Doyle is thought to have based his Hound on, a combination of the Wild Hunt and local folktales about a nobleman who hunted a woman on the moors and had literal hellhounds. (Images of Will hunting the nobles in a hooded cloak like a gender-swapped Little Red Riding Hood are also good.) Interestingly enough, “A Study in S” also uses the theme of cruel noblemen hunting the weak and helpless (by Victorian standards), so ending the book with the Baskervilles-themed piece really makes the book feel cohesive. Volume four, on the other hand, is more about the MI6 mythos than the Sherlockian, with the final chapter starting a crime on a train, something that canonical Holmes never took on, but which was a popular enough theme in Golden Age crime fiction that the British Library’s Crime Classics series released an entire anthology of train-related Golden Age mysteries in 2018. Some non-canonical Sherlock Holmes films and TV episodes also set stories on trains, so if it isn’t strictly canon, it’s still within the realm of the familiar. More importantly for the series itself, this story reunites Sherlock and William, with Sherlock looking practically giddy to see the professor, something you can interpret as you prefer.
Both volumes are strong, mostly because they really shine a light on who William, Louis, Moran, and Fred are. It’s visceral in its callousness and abuses both shown and implied, but it also successfully plays with the established narrative of Conan Doyle’s original (the existence of the Hound and the Second Anglo-Afghan war) and its source folklore to create a version of both that is wholly its own. Moriarty the Patriot doesn’t always hit the high notes, but when it does, it doesn’t fail to be impressive.