‘You could be Holmes, I’ll be Watson/
Every hero, yes even me /
Everybody has their Moriarty’
As Belle & Sebastian put it so melodically, all superheroes need a supervillain. And villains don’t come much bigger than Professor Moriarty – or indeed Jack the Ripper. For Holmes believes that these names are one and the same: it is London, 1888, and one of crime’s most notorious figures is just beginning his reign of hell in Whitechapel. It is not so much the killings of prostitutes which are dreadful – it is the mutilation of the corpses that so shocks the police. Holmes is required and knows at once that a superior intelligence is at work – and he, of course, is utterly thrilled at what they are up against. Moriarty has already shown himself to be a master of disguise by impersonating Watson himself and the master criminal is clearly going to try and pin the murders on his arch-enemy Holmes. Why else would Watson unexpectedly see someone who looks like Holmes doing unspeakable things (described in bloody, forensic detail)at the scene of the most appalling crime imaginable? Holmes is, of course, a cocaine addict and, in one tremendous volte face, Watson indulges too (there is a very good reason for this but it would not do to tell). By then, Alice is well and truly through the looking-glass and the reader cannot quite believe where all this seems to be leading. The Last Sherlock Holmes Story is a magnificent follow-on work, published in the late 1970s. Michael Dibdin presents it very cleverly: Arthur Conan Doyle (A.C.D.) in this version of the Holmes universe is the writer who turns Watson’s dry notes of cases into the thrilling accounts which enthral newspaper readers. However, this particular story is written by Watson himself – who left instructions with a lawyer that it was only to be published 50 years after his own death. Thus, in 1976, it appears with a sombre warning from ‘The Editors’ that the contents ‘will prove extremely controversial’. So they do. There are some jars of particularly hideous specimens which need to be destroyed, and copious notes which need to be burnt so that Watson can preserve the myth. It’s genuinely, unexpectedly disturbing.