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 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.)