THE METATEMPORAL DETECTIVE

by Michael Moorcock

Pyr

978-1-59102-596-2

329pp/$25.00/October 2007

The Metatemporal Detective
Cover by John Picacio

Reviewed by Steven H Silver


Michael Moorcock has always played around with his fictional creations, linking them together and putting his characters in atypical and foreign situations.  Over the last several years, he has focused a lot of his attention on the wide-ranging von Bek/Begg family, and often throws in a version of his signature character, Elric of Melniboné.  The Metatemporal Detective is a collection which focuses on Sir Seaton Begg, an English detective in the mode of Sexton Blake, who often crosses wits with the albino, usually referred to as Monsieur Zenith.

Sir Seaton Begg is a gentleman detective who works his way through most of the eleven stories included in the collection.  He is most notably absent from “Sir Milk-and-Blood,” which instead includes the most recognizable incarnation of Elric of Melniboné. Begg’s awareness of the roads between the worlds is strengthened by his frequent encounters not only with Monsieur Zenith, but also appearances by Moorcock’s League of Temporal Adventures, such as Una Persson and Oswald Bastable. Although many of Begg’s adventures begin by mirroring the cases of the detectives who inspired Moorcock, they almost invariably take a fantastic turn, whether in the form of the life-sucking Stormbringer, fantastic creatures, or travel to different worlds.

Although Monsieur Zenith is identified as Elric of Melniboné on the book’s cover, and is clearly an aspect of that character, readers who expect to find Elric as he appeared in the original Elric novels will be disappointed.  This is a more subtle version of Elric, one who can survive within (and at the edges) of twentieth-century European culture. Nevertheless, there are familiar aspects to Zenith, from his albinoism to his runesword and ability to cross between worlds.  But while the traditional sword and sorcery Elric tends to be more of a pawn on the gods of Chaos and Law, Monsieur Zenith is more active in his activities.

Aside from the characters Moorcock employs, the linking force between each of the stories is the battle which constantly rages in Moorcock’s works between Law and Chaos.  Just as Elric is a pawn of Chaos in the Elric novels, in The Metatemporal Detective, Monsieur Zenith is constantly striving to increase the entropy in the world while Begg is trying to preserve the level of entropy in the world.  Just as Moorcock postulates that Law can’t exist without Chaos (and vice versa), so, too, can’t Begg exist without Zenith.

Moorcock is very comfortable writing in different styles, and while the style of “The Mystery of the Texas Twister” mirrors the pulp-western style on which it is based, many of the stories take the form of the more genteel mysteries and florid style common among the writers of the 1920s. None of these stylistic changes are as distracting as they could have been since Moorcock is careful to join the style to the story in a manner which makes any other style almost unthinkable.

The stories generally work well, but read together in a collection such as The Metatemporal Detective there is a tendency to view them as linked stories, which doesn’t work as well.  Each of these stories works best on its own, although in a few cases they reference other tales.  Nevertheless characters, alliances, and settings are constantly shifting.
The Affair of the Seven Virgins The Mystery of the Texas Twister
Crimson Eyes London Flesh
The Ghost Warriors The Pleasure Garden of Felipe Sagittarius
The Girl Who Killed Sylvia Blade The Affair of Le Bssin des Hivers
The Case of the Nazi Canary The Flanuer des Arcades de l'Opera
Sir Milk-and-Blood


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