The Moriarty Syndrome

No, you did not miss a new scientific phenomenon. This is something I’ve observed and named. So please let me know what you think of it. The “Moriarty Syndrome” (named for the Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis Moriarty) is simply the creation of an evil foil with a personal focus on the hero.

This phenomenon appears in fiction on a regular basis. I’ve read countless mysteries where the killer turns out to be known to the detective—they went to school together, they were once lovers, they were rivals for a promotion, etc. Mystery series, in books and especially on TV, rely on a Moriarty character to make the drama, and danger, personal.

In real life organized crime bosses have targeted individual police officers and prosecutors. It’s scary and true. But if the cat & mouse games, the dangerous dances and highly charged personal interactions that turn up in fiction were a regular part of the job no one would go into law enforcement.

Does the Moriarty Syndrome—with its sinister, criminal masterminds, hell-bent on taking down the good cop or undermining the credibility of the honest district attorney—make good fiction? Sometimes it does. But it always feels a bit forced. It’s also become a trope on TV detective series shows. It’s almost as reliable as the killer copying crimes from a bestselling mystery novel gambit. I haven’t come up with a name for that one—yet.

Do you have any examples of the Moriarty Syndrome to share?




  1. lol – now that you’ve named it, it seems so obvious. And yes, it is popular. I can’t remember the name of the movie but it had Denzel Washington in it as an ex detective now bed-bound who’s targeted by the villain because it’s like a duel, or something. I guess normal people are too stupid to count. :/

    • Candy Korman

      Yes, yes… I remember that movie. I think it was The Bone Collector—or something like that.

      The duel to the death drama of the arch rivals is too familiar, and yet we fall for it every time!