Book Review: "Moriarty: The Lazarus Tree," by Daniel Corey

(Have you read "Moriarty: The Dark Chamber" yet? Spoilers from the first volume below. You have been warned!)

How do you top a first-rate introduction to a completely fresh take on one of the most reviled villains in English literature? Well, you essentially raise the stakes higher -- more action, more clever plot points, more intrigue, more suspense, and more dark humor to name but a few ways to get you going. The team behind "Moriarty: The Dark Chamber" comes back with an even powerful tale that continues the saga of the Napoleon of Crime, Professor Moriarty.

Based on his traumatic exposure to the Dark Chamber, Moriarty begins to hallucinate visions of his future (or are they his past?) involving a banyan tree in Burma. Convinced that these visions are a premonition of his death, he embarks upon a quest to locate this tree in the heart of the Asian colony. He is aided by an upright, but slightly cynical, officer Blair from the East India Company, who has his own ghosts to battle. Familiar names make a comeback in volume two of this phenomenal series, which continues to explore the scarred psyche of the criminelle extraordinaire of colonial Britain.

The narrative twists through several mini-mysteries that Moriarty must crack to put all the pieces together for the final solution. There is am impressive cast of shady colonists and natives alike who add a color to the proceedings through their machinations, either behind the scenes, or as an outright rebellion against the European oppressors.

The plot device in this story is the so-called Lazarus Tree, said to contain the secrets of reviving the dead. Moriarty is convinced that the tree is his way of cheating his death. Is that the truth, or is the tree a regular MacGuffin that masks a higher motive? You will have to read the book to find out!

The strength of narrative in this volume is the authentic depiction of colonial Burma -- The Burma of Moriarty is not an exotic locale for spending a lazy summer afternoon over tea and cucumber sandwiches, it is a hot, humid, festering cauldron of class tensions, colonial exploitation, racial strife all combined with a spiritual element that may seem a bit new-agey to the readers. Daniel Corey brings out the repressed anger most effectively through the character of Blair, who is the right-person-in-the-wrong-situation in this story. His dialogues with Moriarty carry the weight of most of the meat of the narrative, and the way their initial mistrust gives way to mutual respect is an almost parallel with the Holmes-Watson journey from Doyle's canon. The story excels as a fine example of fantastic fiction that borrows heavily from history, but is certainly not "historical fiction" (as some other Holmes' stories are.)

Anthony Diecidue and Mike Vosburg's panels convey the action as well as the expanse of colonial outposts in a stunning arrangement of lines, hatching and perspective. Diecidue and Perry Freeze also supply the colors, and Dave Lanphear rounds up the crew with his inks and lettering.

The "Moriarty" series has broken new ground (and sales records) across the world, in spite of having virtually no marketing campaign or big-name publishers to promote it. Here's hoping that the next installment of the series arrives with an even higher bar of gripping storytelling!

Highly recommended.