An Audio Essential

As a mother/short order cook/chauffeur (chauffeuse?)/avid knitter, I’m a big fan of anything fun that can be accomplished while my hands are full. Hence my addiction to audiobooks. I’ve been pretty much singlehandedly keeping Audible.com in business for years, and am happily aware that many Ricochet members are fellow addicts.

I am so beside myself with joy at having simultaneously discovered both a great writer and a great reader that I have to share the news with you.

I am currently listening to a rip-roaring, wildly entertaining, tremendously clever and funny novel called Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the d’Urbervilles by Kim Newman, read by Tom Hodgkins. I’m the kind of snooty Sherlock Holmes fan who generally sniffs at pastiches, but this thing is so ridiculously well done that it’s impossible not to be drawn in. It’s sprinkled throughout with tossed-aside little details guaranteed to make a Holmes buff smile, as well as all manner of other sly and witty references. (Not only does the ghost of the Tess of the title appear [or does she?], but so does the Maltese Falcon — and even a youthful version of Kasper Gutman.)

Professor Moriarty is, of course, Holmes’s archenemy, the “Napoleon of Crime.” The novel, in a mirroring of the Holmes stories, is told in the first person by Moriarty’s right-hand man, Colonel Sebastian “Basher” Moran. Moran, as he is written by Newman, is a libertine of the first water and a raucously unregenerate baddie. The book is Moran’s memoir of some of Moriarty’s adventures, all of which echo a Holmes story (A Shambles in Belgravia, The Red Planet League, The Adventure of the Six Maledictions, to name but three).

Now, I have a particular affinity for Moran, because I named the detective in my book after Moran’s victim in the wonderful Holmes story The Empty House (the victim was the Honorable Ronald Adair, and my detective is Evan Adair). (You might find it odd to name one’s detective after a dead guy in another detective story, and you might be right, but I’ve just always thought both Moran’s and Adair’s names had a wonderful rhythm to them.) The version of Moran spun by Newman is, for all his violence, terrifically good company. If you like the Holmes stories, or over-the-top Victorians behaving very, very badly, or just highly inventive, high-energy tale-spinning with a steampunk twist, you’ll love this.

The author, Kim Newman, was unknown to me, but I’m going to seek out the rest of his work. He has written a novel about Dracula (Van Helsing gets a disgraceful mention in Moriarty), and that’s bound to be fun. The reader, Tom Hodgkins, is apparently a British actor — according to IMDb, he’s had small parts in a variety of movies and TV shows. He is an absolutely pitch perfect narrator. Every character is distinct, with Moran’s and Moriarty’s voices particularly memorable. He had to do a wide variety of accents, ranging from English aristocrats to French criminals to Polish knifethrowers to German spies to female opera singers from New Jersey (Holmesians, you know who that is), and every one of them is great. I was sorry to see that this is Hodgkins’s only audio performance, but I hope that will change.

So glad I got that off my chest. Audio news this good has to be shared. Enjoy! (And if you’ve got any on your list that make you as happy as this one is making me, jump into the comments.)

  1. Severely Ltd.

    It’s nice to have you back here mixing with the hoi polloi. Lately I find myself forgetting about the Main and not checking it for days, particularly when I’m busy.

    I’ve never been attracted to the satires or take-offs–whatever the term is–to classic novels, but if this is as clever as you say I’ll have to have a look at it.

    I enjoyed ‘A Falling Knife’, is there another Evan Adair novel in the future?

  2. Karen

    The book sounds wonderful. I’ve become a big fan of audible over the last few months, and this will go on my wish list. I’m currently listening to Jake Tapper’s The Outpost, which I highly recommend, but I think I’d prefer a less serious selection for my next listen. By the way, can you recommend an audible book on the Israel v. Palestine conflict?

  3. Gödel

    Don’t apologize for the name-dropping! Umberto Eco’s protagonist in “The Name of the Rose” was named “Brother William of Baskerville” and his novice assistant “Adso” (Germanic root of “Watson”) for exactly the reason you think—”because debts must be paid,” as Eco crisply notes in the Postscript.

  4. Layla

    Thanks so much for this, Judith! I’m a Sherlockian from way back as well as an audiobook fan, so I’ll definitely look for this one. Most Holmes pastiches have been painful to read, the exception being several of Laurie King’s Holmes/Russell series (but not all of them). This sounds fantastic!

    My favorite narrators are Robert Whitfield and Graeme Malcolm, either of whom could probably make the telephone book come to life.

  5. Group Captain Mandrake
    Judith Levy, Ed.: He had to do a wide variety of accents, ranging from English aristocrats to French criminals to Polish knifethrowers to German spies to female opera singers from New Jersey (Holmesians, you know whothat is)

    Do I win a prize if I nominate Irene Adler?

    Seriously, it sounds interesting.  I am a great Sherlock Holmes fan, but I’m not averse to reading a pastiche.

  6. Spin

    Done and downloading.  I am less than halfway through Fall of Giants, with another 18 hours to go.  The war has just started and young Gregory Peshkov has just killed his first German.  I left him standing there, leaning against the German’s horse, eating the German’s sausage and bread.  It’s an exciting moment.  But I may just leave him there for a couple of weeks and check this out instead.  

  7. Judith Levy, Ed.
    C
    Severely Ltd.: I enjoyed ‘A Falling Knife’, is there another Evan Adair novel in the future?

    Thank you! I do have another one in mind, yes.

  8. Judith Levy, Ed.
    C
    Layla: My favorite narrators are Robert Whitfield and Graeme Malcolm

    Graeme Malcolm is fabulous. Have you seen this? It’s just out. That one went straight into the shopping cart.

    Thanks for the tip on Whitfield. I’ll check him out.

  9. Judith Levy, Ed.
    C
    Group Captain Mandrake

    Do I win a prize if I nominate Irene Adler?

    Well done, Captain!

  10. Judith Levy, Ed.
    C
    Karen: By the way, can you recommend an audible book on the Israel v. Palestine conflict?

    Not off the top of my head — there are some good ones, but not on audio. If I come up with a title I’ll certainly let you know.

  11. Group Captain Mandrake
    Judith Levy, Ed.

    Group Captain Mandrake

     

    Do I win a prize if I nominate Irene Adler?

    Well done, Captain! · 3 minutes ago

    Todah rabbah, Judith.  I remember putting together a Sherlock Holmes quiz.  One of the questions was “who was the second most dangerous man in London?”

  12. Capt. Spaulding

    Thank you for the resounding recommendation. I listen repeatedly to Edward Hardwicke’s reading of “Silver Blaze.” It always thrills me. He doesn’t try to “do” voices and yet the distinctions are discernible, through pacing, emphasis, whatever. I have heard several other narrators but none to equal him. I am certainly tempted to try this one, in light of your enthusiasm.

  13. Basil Fawlty

    I’ve been an Audible member for almost 12 years.  In that time, the best thing Audible has done is rescue my favorite author, George V. Higgins, from out-of-print oblivion.  Most of his novels are now available on Audible (and Kindle).  Some authors are made for Audible, and Higgins is one of them.  His dialogue-driven stories are best when read aloud.  Anyone interested in a taste may wish to try Penance for Jerry Kennedy, the middle part of a trilogy starring a rather scruffy Boston criminal defense attorney.  Wonderful stuff.

  14. Basil Fawlty

    Bah!  Double post.  I’ve been having trouble with Ricochet all day.

  15. Judith Levy, Ed.
    C
    Group Captain Mandrake

    Judith Levy, Ed.

    Group Captain Mandrake

     

    Do I win a prize if I nominate Irene Adler?

    Well done, Captain! · 3 minutes ago

    Todah rabbah, Judith.  I remember putting together a Sherlock Holmes quiz.  One of the questions was “who was the second most dangerous man in London?”

    In Moriarty, Moran is thoroughly unamused when he learns he’s been described this way by Holmes. “The second most dangerous man?” What an insult!

    Now I can’t resist tossing one back to you. Who was “the worst man in London”?

  16. Judith Levy, Ed.
    C
    Capt. Spaulding: I listen repeatedly to Edward Hardwicke’s reading of “Silver Blaze.”

    Oh yes, he’s lovely. I have him reading The Naval Treaty, The Red-Headed League, and The Blue Carbuncle. There’s something very soothing about his style of reading.

  17. Group Captain Mandrake
    Judith Levy, Ed.

    Group Captain Mandrake

    Judith Levy, Ed.

    Group Captain Mandrake

     

    Do I win a prize if I nominate Irene Adler?

    Well done, Captain! · 3 minutes ago

    Todah rabbah, Judith.  I remember putting together a Sherlock Holmes quiz.  One of the questions was “who was the second most dangerous man in London?”

    InMoriarty, Moran is thoroughly unamused when he learns he’s been described this way by Holmes. “Thesecondmost dangerous man?” What an insult!

    Now I can’t resist tossing one back to you. Who was “the worst man in London”? · 29 minutes ago

    I confess I had to look it up.  It’s probably time for me to read all the stories again.  In case there are other Ricochetti who know the answer, I won’t reveal it. 

    Instead, I’ll end with one of my favourite quotations in which Holmes comments on physical attractiveness:

    I assure you that the most winning woman I ever knew was hanged for poisoning three little children for their insurance-money, and the most repellant man of my acquaintance is a philanthropist who has spent nearly a quarter of a million upon the London poor.

  18. Group Captain Mandrake
    Capt. Spaulding: Thank you for the resounding recommendation. I listen repeatedly to Edward Hardwicke’s reading of “Silver Blaze.” It always thrills me. He doesn’t try to “do” voices and yet the distinctions are discernible, through pacing, emphasis, whatever. I have heard several other narrators but none to equal him. I am certainly tempted to try this one, in light of your enthusiasm. · 42 minutes ago

    Hooray for Captain Spaulding,

    The African Explorer,

    Did someone call me “Schnorrer”?

    Hooray, hooray, hooray.

    Hardwicke is opposite Jeremy Brett in some of the TV series, and I saw him on stage in London with Brett in The Secret of Sherlock Holmes.  He dispelled the image of Watson’s being a bit of a bumbler.

  19. tabula rasa
    Judith Levy, Ed.

    Karen: By the way, can you recommend an audible book on the Israel v. Palestine conflict?

    Not off the top of my head — there are some good ones, but not on audio. If I come up with a title I’ll certainly let you know. · 2 hours ago

    I’m unaware of one either, but I can recommend two books by Michael Oren, the current Israeli ambassador to the U.S.:  Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America and the Middle East 1776 to the Present and Six Days of War (his account of the 1967 six-day war).  Both are available on Audible.

  20. Spin

    Definitely a great recommendation.  Started it on the commute home last night.  

    But I don’t know that I could listen to Holmes.  Holmes requires being read from a large, leather-bound tome, with a cigar or pipe and a brandy.