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Book Review: Mark A. Latham: A Betrayal in Blood

 

I am restarting my review backlog with the first of a bunch of pastiches that combine the Holmes stories with another work of Victorian literature. Latham’s pastiche takes Holmes and Watson on the trail of one Abraham Van Helsing after he is acquitted of the murder of Count Dracula.

In A Betrayal in Blood‘s version of events, the “Dracula Papers” are published in the newspapers after Van Helsing’s acquittal, and this prompts Holmes to investigate what really happened in Transylvania – because, as I’m sure every Holmesian knows, he is of the opinion that ghosts need not apply, and concludes that all this talk of vampires is a sensationalist ploy to cover up some kind of foul play. After all, several people died, and Holmes simply isn’t satisfied with the explanation “well, it was a vampire what did it”. Good for him, seeing as it wasn’t a vampire in The Sussex Vampire either!

For the most part, the novel’s concerned with the deconstruction of the vampirism and other supernatural goings-on in Dracula. I always enjoy subversion and I found the alternative explanations for the events of the book and the alternative characterisations of the various players interesting if not always convincing. There’s some unfortunate and rather racist depiction of Transylvanian natives (whom Watson refers to as gypsies, which may have been excusable during Conan Doyle’s time but certainly isn’t now) late in the novel, which I feel I should mention because it really bothered me.

On the Holmes side of things: Occasionally I got a bit irritated when Holmes won’t answer Watson’s direct questions or pleas to bring him up to speed with his thought process. I suppose this is in character but it annoys me when mystery writers use it to keep the audience in the dark.

The case moves at a good pace. You can understand it if you haven’t ever read Dracula, though of course you’ll get more out of it if you have done so, or at least swotted up by reading the Wikipedia entry. As it’s an international case which takes our dynamic duo to far-off locations on the European continent, naturally, Mycroft also makes a brief appearance.

Slight spoiler: As a German, I have to give credit for Van Helsing’s speech pattern. It rings very true to the kind of mistakes and idiosyncrasies that people with German as a first language can have in their speech.

On the whole, the story has all the right ingredients and is fairly quick to read. Unfortunately, the area that I found unsatisfactory was the tone – I found that the story took itself too seriously to be enjoyable for me. Holmes vs. The Supernatural is always a good set-up for a pastiche plot, but where an adaptation such as the Guy Ritchie movies really taps into the ridiculousness of Victorian shilling shockers, this novel goes into more of a grimdark space. If you’re looking for that kind of thing, then you’ll enjoy this novel. I personally prefer a sillier approach and so ultimately, this didn’t quite hit the mark for me.


You can get the book from amazon.co.uk, amazon.de and amazon.com. You can find all the Titan Holmes titles on their website.

A copy of the above-reviewed work was provided for consideration by Titan Books. All opinions expressed are the reviewer’s own.

Ardy is one of the Baker Street Babes and London contacts. Want to get in touch about something Sherlockian happening in London? Email her at Ardy@bakerstreetbabes.com

Thirtysomething. Librarian. Transplanted German. Anglophile. Lover of tea and scones (and, yes, jam. I also own ridiculous jumpers).

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