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The Metatemporal Detective by Michael Moorcock

01/09/2009. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy The Metatemporal Detective in the USA - or Buy The Metatemporal Detective in the UK

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pub: Pyr/Prometheus Books. 326 page hardback. Price: $25.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59102-596-2.

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'The Metatemporal Detective' is Seaton Begg, a consulting detective who sometimes uses cocaine to boost his brain-power and is frequently employed by the British and other governments for delicate tasks. When visited by Monsieur Zenith at the start of 'The Affair Of The Seven Virgins' he can deduce from the calluses on Zenith's fingers that the fellow plays the fiddle and is having some trouble with E sharp. Does that ring any bells?

Monsieur Zenith, a pale bloke with red eyes, seems a bit familiar too, especially when he whips out his big black sword. He and Begg are distantly related, members of a European family with its roots in antiquity. Begg is sometimes assisted by 'Taffy' Sinclair, a Home Office pathologist and they live in a world where the internal combustion engine was never invented. Flight is by zeppelins and the cars are electric. History, too, is not quite the same as ours in this part of Michael Moorcock's Multiverse.

The story of saving the virgins is followed by one where several corrupt British MPs and top businessmen are murdered by a single stab wound and left with terrified expressions on their faces as if the very souls had been sucked out of them! Begg gets involved and once again encounters that albino chap. This story is fun because of Mrs Ratchet or 'Mad Maggie', a former government minister who gets involved.

Moorcock pokes some fun at the American right wing, too, in the 'The Mystery Of The Texas Twister' which has a gang of ruthless businessmen taking over the state and trying to foment war in order to increase their profits. Imagine!

In another story set in Texas, the Masked Buckaroo and his pals, an assortment of western movie stereotypes, must contend with an Apache rising led by the White Wolf, an albino with a black lance who is reputed to have magic powers. Seaton Begg comes in half-way through the story to assist. Moorcock lives in Texas now but you wouldn't need to go anywhere near it to come up with this hokum. A week of afternoons watching Randolph Scott films on Channel 4 would suffice.

One longer tale involves a scandal about Mr. Hitler in Germany. The little fellow is on the brink of power and his niece, with whom he is rumoured to have had an unsavoury relationship, has been murdered. Or was it suicide? Sir Seaton Begg and his able assistant 'Taffy' take a Zeppelin over to Berlin to investigate and once again run into their old chum, the albino. I had heard about this scandal in real life but I think the unsavoury part rests on the testimony of one disgruntled guard who fled to America.

In another yarn, Hitler is a police captain who falls out with Police Chief Bismarck over nightclub singer Eva Braun. In these stories, there is the lure of famous names put in different settings, a clever trick. Gore Vidal opened one essay by putting Kennedy, Monroe and others in one paragraph and then jeered at the reader for being drawn in while admitting he would be himself. We are all conditioned to relish new material about the very famous. Also the different versions of Hitler demonstrate that the Metatemporal Detective visits different parts of the Multiverse or maybe it's different versions of him.

Michael Moorcock obviously had fun doing these short stories over the years. Whether the reader enjoys it or not depends on the reader but some knowledge of the rest of his oeuvre certainly helps. Personally, I loved it. Really, chaps, we must acknowledge that great writers can get self-indulgent once there's enough money in the bank, put it down to good old English eccentricity. He is doing what he loves and you can either go along for the ride or not. I have to say the ride is quite jolly but palls if taken in big doses.

Familiarity doesn't breed contempt but can instil boredom. These stories were written over a period of years and probably best read over a period of weeks, at least. Read one and then put the book away for a while. It's jolly and worth having but it won't be on anyone's list of classic Moorcock. (Stage whisper: Wait for the cheap paperback) (Can I say that, Geoff?)

Eamonn Murphy

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