The Metatemporal Detective
by Michael Moorcock
Cover Artist: John Picacio
Review by Sam Lubell
Pyr Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781591025962
Date: 31 October 2007 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Michael Moorcock's The Metatemporal Detective is the latest book featuring another of the many incarnations of his Eternal Champion. Well, sort of. It's a collection of stories about a universe-hopping investigator. Well, at least according to the back of the book. And it's a barely disguised homage to British detective Sexton Blake and his archenemy Zenith the Albino who appeared in British serial magazines of the 1920s. Well, yes but ... actually, it is all of these.
In the first story, "The Affair of the Seven Virgins", the reader is introduced to Mr. Seaton Begg, a consulting detective clearly in the Sherlock Holmes mode to the point of being able to recognize that a callus on the little finger means a character is having trouble playing the E-flat on a violin and using a "wonder drug" called Koa-Kaine. He is visited by an albino named Zenith (see barely disguised homage above) who asks for his help rescuing seven virgins who have been kidnapped by a dictator in order to blackmail the rightful king. Gradually, the reader becomes aware that what looks like 19th-century England isn't. This world has electric cars and airships. And Zenith is apparently something other than he seems, a member of a "family doomed forever to do the Devil's work, seek nothing less than resolution and reconciliation between God and Satan ... a seasoned player in the long Game of Time, where Law and Chaos warred across the multiverse."
Long-time readers of Moorcock will have long since recognized Zenith as Elric of Melnibone, the Eternal Champion and sword and sorcery hero of many of Moorcock's other novels. The problem is Zenith/Elric is not the hero of this book or even anti-hero, but is supposed to serve the villain role. He still comes across as a noble anti-hero, in conflict with Sexton for his own reasons but not outright evil. This makes him a very interesting character, far more so than Begg, who comes across as somewhat dull by comparison.
One story is set in 1964 with Sexton now acting like a Sam Spade-style hard-boiled detective with no explanation for the change. Then the next story is set in 1931 with Begg now called a metatemporal investigator and Zenith disguised as a Nazi bodyguard who has a plan to frame political leader Adolph Hitler. But a later story has an Adolf Hitler as captain of uniformed detectives under Police Chief Bismark, with no narrative indication that Sexton has traveled to a different parallel world. Only in the last story do the metatemporal claims begin to make sense and the connection between Zenith and Elric become clear.
Fans of Moorcock will enjoy seeing this different side of Elric and will recognize many of the characters who wander into the conflicts between Sexton and Zenith. But those new to Moorcock's multiverse, who think they are picking up a collection of time-traveling detective stories, will miss most of the fun. Unfortunately, the stories do not really stand alone separate from Moorcock's other work. Readers who do not know why it is so shocking that Una Persson would seem to be in league with Hitler or who do not understand the importance of the von Bek family would be wise to skip The Metatemporal Detective. Even for fans of Moorcock this book is minor apocrypha, not part of the main saga.