It is 1894, and the news of a Transylvanian nobleman’s death at the hands of a certain Professor Van Helsing is the talk of London.
Unsatisfied at the acquittal of the professor, Mycroft Holmes asks Sherlock to investigate what truly led to the deaths of Lucy Westenra and the mysterious aristocrat. The newspapers are full of inconsistencies and wild supernatural theories, and as Holmes digs deeper, he suspects that those hailed as heroes are not what they seem. The clues point to an innocent man framed and murdered for crimes he did not commit, and Holmes and Watson find themselves targeted at every turn, as what began as a quest to clear one man’s name reveals a conspiracy that draws them to the mountains of Transylvania and the infamous Castle Dracula.
What if count Dracula was actually a good guy? Not the grisly bloodsucker of grim horror tales, just an innocent man who was framed to cover up crimes committed not by supernatural foes but by very human villains. This is the premise behind “A Betrayal In Blood”, and it is an interesting one.
As we know Sherlock Holmes does not believe in the supernatural and when he begins digging into the “Dracula papers”, the documents chronicling the murderous creatures’ acts of terror, he starts noticing that plenty of things just do not make an awful lot of sense. So apparently Dracula is able to shape-shift into various animals, but for some reason he chooses not to use this power when he is in gravest danger under attack by his greatest enemies. Why did the count come to England at all and how did he choose his victims? And for that matter what really happened to the Demeter, the ship he arrived on? Why does the celebrated vampire-hunter Abraham Van Helsing pretend to be Dutch, when he is in fact German?
If you are a vampire aficionado and know Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula inside out then you will no doubt enjoy Mark A. Latham’s book very much. If however like me you are a bit rusty on vampire lore and it’s been a while since your last reading of Dracula you might get a bit confused now and then. So wait, who was Renfield again? What was the role of Lord Godalming? How did “The Crew Of Light” originally manage to defeat the master of darkness?
Nonetheless even if you do not know the precise answers to these and other questions there is still a lot to enjoy here; it might seem like a tale of gothic horror on the surface, but this is actually a real detective story, with some of the best bits occurring when Holmes and Watson investigate how it might have been possible for Van Helsing and his associates to fake the existence of vampires. They even staged the killing of a vampire at a cemetery by putting a stake through its heart. Sherlock Holmes demonstrates that this illusion can be achieved by relatively simple means.
If A Betrayal In Blood is a let-down ending with a whimper rather than a bang, it is because once you take the supernatural elements and even the part of the actual blood-sucking away from the Dracula story you are left with only an average series of crimes committed by villains who are not that interesting. Initially Holmes likens Professor Van Helsing to his arch nemesis Moriarty, but in the end he is only a pathetic old man not smart or menacing enough to be a worthwhile spoil for the great detective.
This is still a good solid novel that just lacks the ultimate excitement it promises on the cover.