Darkness at Pemberly by T. H. White

If you have read my earlier post about the Austen in Austin exhibit at the Ransom Center in Austin, you will have seen a reference to this book in my comments.  After I visited the exhibit and heard Janine’s talk, I had to find the book and read it.  This little book combined two of my favorite things, or so I thought…a cozy mystery and Jane Austen.

Well dear reader, the book was fun to read if you are a fan of the cozy mystery genre; it was sort of Agatha Christie meets Dashiell Hammett sprinkled with a few Austen references for the heck of it.  Originally published in 1932, it attempts to straddle the English village mystery and the hard-boiled detective story, and manages to do it somewhat successfully. Our detective, aptly named Buller, is an English copper who retires after he is unable to gather the evidence necessary to arrest a crazed killer who confesses in the first part of the book.  I’ll admit, I was scratching my head for the first 92 pages trying to figure out why Pemberly was even in the title, since neither the estate, nor any Darcys were yet to be found.  However, I persisted. And was rewarded in part the second when the detective inspector, now retired, is revealed to be a friend of Sir Charles Darcy, descendant of Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth, and his sister Elizabeth.  Sir Charles is a little bit of a ne’er do well–he has even served time in prison–and a slight hothead. I won’t ruin it for you, but Sir Charles becomes embroiled with the diabolical murderer from part the first and Pemberly becomes the setting for most of the rest of the Novella as the cast of characters, including chemists, butlers, and more try to avoid being the next victim and catch the killer before he can do in Charles or Elizabeth.  Needless to say, there is a very chaste romance between Buller and the 1930s Elizabeth, who is a “modern” woman of the era. 

All’s well that ends well and readers expecting everything tied up and explained by the end will not be disappointed.  It was satisfying as a mystery, less so as Austen fan fiction, but I am not sure what I was expecting from T. H. White, he of The Once and Future King. If you only read it as a curiosity, it will be worth it, it doesn’t take long at only 286 pages, and it is intriguing to see how White imagines the progeny of the Darcys and the decline of Pemberly. Copies are readily available on Amazon.

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