Michael Kurland is one of those authors that sneak up on you. One finds one of his books, enjoys it, and then one day you find another, and so forth. Until one day you are surprised to notice that you have accumulated quite a lot of his work. Kurland doesn't write the kind of double-barreled, memorable fiction that sticks in your mind, but he is a grand master of the well written, highly enjoyable tale which is the meat and potatoes of a reader's library.
"The Great Game" is the third of a series of novels ("The Infernal Device" and "Death by Gaslight" are the others) that star Professor James Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes nemesis. Kurland's Moriarty is best described as a sympathetic scoundrel who has been known to indulge in less than savory activities in order to finance his scientific research. He is somewhat perplexed and irritated to be the subject of Sherlock Holmes overblown belief that Moriarty is the criminal genius of Europe. But he is quite brilliant, and exudes a fine sense of manners and charm which often, Sherlock Holmes does not.
This tale, set in 1891, takes place amidst the precursors and threats which will eventually lead to the outbreak of World War I. Anarchists and radicals of all flavors plot to bring down the tyranny of the wealthy that they see about them, and the lives of royalty and top politicians are often at risk. The primary action of the book centers around Charles Summerdane, son of a British noble acting as a spy in Vienna and with two close friends of Moriarty, Benjamin and Cecily Barnett. Charles is maneuvered into taking the blame for an assassination attempt and the death of his lover. With Charles imprisoned, Charles father, Duke Albermar appeals to Professor Moriarty to rescue him from the Viennese police without prejudice to Great Britain.
The Barnetts, innocently vacationing in Europe, manage to save the Prince and Princess of Rumelia from an attempt on their lives, and then are kidnapped themselves by plotters seeking information about Moriarty. In the meantime, Sherlock Holmes and the loyal Watson are also in the Vienna area trying to unlock the secrets of various plots before war can break out. Events in Vienna are a whirl of activity as Holmes and Moriarty form an unwilling alliance in an effort to rescue their friends and keep a shaky peace alive. The Professor seems to have a trick up every sleeve and Holmes' mind is at its deductive finest.
Kurland's characters are classics of that special Victorian world that we associate with Holmes. Men are gruff heroes or devious villains, and all woman are admirable and often more intelligent than the men. Kurland has written a delightful period piece as well as a charming addition to the Holmesian cantos. This is a great cozy up by the fire book, and is well worth the investment.