The Death of Sir Martin Malprelate
By Adam Roberts
- The Death of Sir Martin Malprelate
Author: Adam Roberts
Publisher: Angry Robot
- ISBN: 9781915523020
- Published: November 2023
- Pages: 303
- Format reviewed: Paperback
- Review date: 10/11/2023
- Language: English
There are two ways of writing fiction set in the Victorian era; set a fictional book in the real era or write within the Victorian multiverse. This is a playground that I have read many books in, a world where Sherlock Holmes can investigate new cases, but also one in which he can work alongside Mr Hyde or stalk Dracula. Where does The Death of Sir Martin Malprelate by Adam Roberts sit? Is it straight Victorian fiction or not?
Sir Martin Malprelate is a successful man, but not a well-liked one. His recent money has been made in the railways and he has built a reputation of cold-hearted greed, doing what it takes to get people out of their houses to make way for the tracks. When he is brutally murdered, it comes as no real surprise as he had so many enemies. What is surprising is what the witnesses saw; a strange glowing train running the Knight over on a piece of land with no track. Company man Mr Bryde is asked to work with the police to investigate. He in turn looks to help from his friend one Vavasour Holmes.
Malprelate opens as a piece of original Victorian fiction, evoking the era and people of the time, but with its own new fictional characters. Once the Holmes name is added the reader’s perception shifts. Sir Martin’s death is mysterious and supernatural, but if the father of Sherlock is involved, then it must be a mystery like classic Conan Doyle outings. Some rational explanation will come to the fore to solve the crime.
This works until you start to notice other well-known fictional places and characters popping up. At one point we meet a reformed Ebeneezer Scrooge. The worlds of Holmes and Scrooge cannot cohabit unless you are opening the door to four ghosts visiting over a single night. The book is “a world woven from the imaginations of Charles Dickens, George Eliot and Arthur Conan Doyle,” but one name is missing and looms large in the text, Mr H G Wells.
The focus of the story is the death of an unlikable man. Roberts constructs an entertaining crime story as Mr Bryde and Mr Sherlock delve deeper into the world of the victim. Mean on the surface, he had a love of the natural world. Could his support of the impressive London Zoo have something to do with his death?
Is Malprelate a crime novel? It certainly has a crime element and the investigation certainly has twists and turns; one is particularly shocking, but this is an Urban Fantasy novel. As new characters and situations were added to the book, I had to keep recalibrating where the novel sat in the Victorian Multiverse. It turns out it is full League of Extraordinary Gentlemen territory. As a fan of the genre, this is no problem for me, but pure historic crime fans will be very confused with proceedings as the chances of a logical explanation becomes increasingly unlikely.
I do think that the book would benefit from being pitched at the Urban Fantasy fan as I fear that readers looking for a Railway Detective alternative will be very confused. If they can adapt to the ever-changing landscape which moves away from the traditional Sherlock into something more Wellian, they will be in for an entertaining read. Roberts captures the feel of the era in the way the characters act and speak. He can blend real world events with the fictional, well enough that I had to do some fact checking to see what actually happened.
Written on 10th November 2023 by Sam Tyler .