January 21, 2004

Lord Darcy, by Randall Garrett

Now, here's a book with something for everybody--or, at least, everybody who's likely to be reading this review in the first place.

If you like mysteries, you'll like this book. Lord Darcy is the Chief Investigator for His Highness the Duke of Normandy, and is kept quite busy investigating one murder or another, with the occasional jaunt into counter-espionage.

If you like fantasy, you'll like this book, for Lord Darcy's right-hand man is a forensic sorceror named Sean O Lochlainn. It's his job to preserve the victim's corpse until it has been fully examined, to determine whether a bullet was fired by a particular gun or not, to determine whether the death was from purely physical causes or due to black magic, to recreate aspects of the crime, and so forth.

If you like science fiction, you'll like this book, for Master Sean's sorcery is a science rather than a art, in accordance with the magical laws of Similarity, Contagion, and Relevance. Garrett has a deft touch; the Laws of Magic are developed clearly enough that we can believe in a magical "science" yet concisely enough that we avoid boredom. Moreover, the mixture of magic with physical technology is a hoot.

If you like alternate history, you'll like this book, for the major premise (other than the efficacy of magic) is that Richard Coeur-de-Lion does not die young but rather returns to England to rule wisely and well and found a dynasty that will last until the present day. In the 20th century the Anglo-French Empire is the dominant power, directly controlling England, France, and the Americas (fetchingly called New England and New France), and indirectly controlling much of the rest of Europe.

The amazing thing is that Garrett manages to combine all of these elements into a single book and make it work--this is topnotch police procedural of the classic English kind as well as topnotch fantasy. I kept picturing Lord Darcy as a mixture of Peter Wimsey and Roderick Alleyn.

The book is collection of short stories with one novel, Too Many Magicians; the latter contains a Nero Wolfe pastiche that's especially choice (Ian, are you listening?). Garrett wrote these classic tales in the 1960's and 1970's; the indefatigable Eric Flint has collected them in a single volume, and I suggest you buy it. My only complaint about it is that it isn't longer.

Posted by Will Duquette at January 21, 2004 08:38 PM

Ian said:

Yes, I'm listening.

Of course, finding out if Baen ships books to China is toward the bottom of my to do list right now. I still have to get the rest of my book collection, the ones I already own, including several unread Stouts, shipped here.

But when the chance presents itself, yes, I shall read Lord Darcy. :)