Darkness at Pemberley by TH White

Mr Darcy would have been horrified!

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

darkness at pemberleyWhen Inspector Buller is called to a Cambridge college to the murder scene of a young man who has been shot, it quickly appears that the solution is easy – another man is found dead in the building opposite, also shot but apparently by his own hand. The obvious conclusion is that the second man killed the first and then in a fit of remorse took his own life. Buller is unconvinced – he has spotted odd little things in the second man’s room that make him believe he has also been the victim of an elaborate murder. Buller investigates, works out who the murderer is but can’t find the evidence to charge him. The murderer confesses, but only without witnesses and mostly to boast about his own cleverness. Buller, disgusted with his own failure to bring the murderer to justice, resigns from the police, which he can afford to do since he is one of those fortunate Golden Age policemen with private means.

That’s all in the nature of a prologue. The real fun begins when Buller tells the story to his friends, brother and sister Charles and Elizabeth Darcy, current occupants of Pemberley. Yes, that Pemberley! Charles, who has his own reasons for hating the idea of someone getting away with murder, decides to stick his oar in. Thus begins a romping adventure, where the murderer is trying to do away with Charles, and Buller and assorted friends, together with the faithful staff of Pemberley, are attempting to keep Charles safe.

The word that springs to mind for this is preposterous. The story is ludicrous, the credibility line doesn’t even exist, and White has thrown every possible mystery novel trope in to make a kind of glorious Irish stew – locked room, impossible crime, revenge thriller, car chase, both academic and country house settings, maniacal villain, gory deaths, mysterious drugs, poisons, amateur detectives, police, moral ambiguity, extrajudicial justice, shades of Gothic horror, touch of romance, bit of humour, dramatic thriller ending. It ought to be a complete mess, but by some miracle I can’t explain, it works! I found myself racing through it with a smile on my face, rushing through a lot of total nonsense to an ending I knew would be completely over the top, and yet enjoying it thoroughly all the way. I think the reason White gets away with it is simply that he was a very good writer, and wasn’t trying to take himself too seriously. It reads as if he had as much fun writing it as I did reading it.

Murder Mystery Mayhem Logo 2Challenge details:
Book: 8
8
Subject Heading: Singletons
Publication Year: 1932

Although Pemberley is the main setting and Charles and Elizabeth are descended from the original Darcy and Lizzie, there’s no attempt to make this any kind of Austen pastiche. In fact, I’m quite sure Mr Darcy would have been horrified at the behaviour of his descendants and I’m rather surprised that White restrained himself from throwing his disapproving ghost into the mix, especially since restraint doesn’t seem to have been one of White’s authorial traits. But young Elizabeth does seem to have inherited her namesake’s forceful, independent spirit, sense of humour and desire to only marry a man she can respect.

TH White-min
TH White

Martin Edwards lists this in his The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books in the Singletons section – that is, authors who only wrote one mystery novel in their lives. Part of me feels it’s a pity White didn’t write more of them, but a bigger part feels that it’s probably just as well, since I really can’t imagine how he could ever have topped this, and he’d pretty much used up a lifetime’s worth of plots already in this one novel. Unique, preposterous… and great fun!

I downloaded this one from fadedpage.com – here’s the link.

46 thoughts on “Darkness at Pemberley by TH White

  1. Well, this sounds like unexpected fun, FictionFan! So often, those over-the-top plots just don’t work at all, especially if you throw in all of the tropes you’ve mentioned. I give White a lot of credit for being able to pull it off. You mention something, too, that I think is key: authors have to be careful how seriously they’re taking themselves, especially with a book like this one. If White was having fun writing it, I can see how you also had fun reading it – it’s contagious. Even if Mr. Darcy would not have approved!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha, it got progressively funnier seeing just how many tropes he could pack in – he must have been a huge fan of mystery novels, I think. Yes, I think if he’d taken it too seriously, or if he’d expected the reader to take it seriously, it could all have gone horribly wrong, but instead it’s just a great romp. 😀

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    • Haha, I think he looks a bit like Hemingway just returned from catching a marlin or two! Or maybe like Captain Birdseye. It really is a fun romp – totally ridiculous but in all the right ways. 😀

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    • Nor me – apart from the quality of the writing, it’s like a completely different author. Lots of fun, though – he must have been a big fan of mystery novels, I think! 😀

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  2. Like L. Marie’s comment above, I had no idea that White wrote a mystery with Austen’s characters. Wary as I am of books based on Austen’s characters, this does sound like it will be fun to explore. Definitely going to give it a try. (Though I should try and get to The Once and Future King first)

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    • The Austen connection is very small really – it seems as if it’s the house he’s poached rather than anything to do with the characters. I wouldn’t have expected a book like this from him either – it couldn’t be more different from The Once and Future King!

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  3. Oh, this sounds very enjoyable! Glad I read your review as I never would have picked it up otherwise – PD James’s Death Comes to Pemberley put me off murder mystery Austen follow-ons (or, at least, the three chapters of it that I read did). I’ll definitely be reading this, maybe this weekend in fact – thanks for including the link!

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    • Ha, if you did read it this weekend I hope you had fun! The Austen connection is pretty small really – it’s more the house he’s poached than the characters. I’ve never read Death Comes to Pemberley – sounds awful!

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  4. This does sound like total nonsense, but we could all do with some of that every once in a while. It seems as though White wasn’t taking it too seriously, which probably made all the difference. I take it he is quite a somber looking fellow judgingf his photo?

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    • Yes, I think it got me when I was in the right mood for a bit of well written nonsense! Ha, I think he looks like the rugged captain of a whaling ship – all beard and hair and thick sturdy outdoor clothing. And a pipe, of course! Either that or he looks like Hemingway just back after a long trip fishing for marlins…

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  5. I think your analysis hits the spot in identifying why this kind of over-the-top book works. When the reader knows the genre and the author goes all in on using every trope to a ludicrous degree, it ends up being quite entertaining to those who know the “inside jokes.” I wonder if it would hold up for a reader who’s never read a murder mystery?

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    • Good question – I do think spotting all the tropes added to the fun and made me feel I was in the hands of a fellow mystery fan. It would be interesting to hear how someone who hadn’t read many mysteries got on with it – I’m not sure whether it would work or not.

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  6. How fun, finding a gem like this when you weren’t expecting to! I agree, it sounds like a perfect mess, but who am I to argue with success? And seriously, when the writer has fun penning a book, I suspect that can’t help but overflow to the reader. Nicely done, FF!

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    • The books Martin Edwards has selected for his 100 novels have had some real gems and also some real duds! Happily this was one of the successes – so much fun. I think the author must have loved mystery novels and was sort of paying tribute to the genre by using all these tropes!

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  7. It might go over my head since I’m not an Austen fan, but White’s writing and humor might make up for that. The Once and Future King ranks pretty high on my list of all-time favorites. It’s one of the few books I’ve ever seriously considered reading a second time.

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    • The Austen aspect is really pretty small – really it’s the house he’s poached rather than the characters or the style. I loved The Once and Future King when I was a kid and have always been worried about revisiting in case it doesn’t live up to my memories of it. This one is totally different but I guess when you’re a good writer you can write almost anything!

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    • Yes, I think when you’re a good enough writer you can take a chance on something as wild as this! It reads as if he must have been a real fan of mystery novels – I don’t think he missed out a single trope… 😀

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    • It’s totally different but just as well written. I loved the Arthurian books when I was a child but have always been afraid to revisit them since sometimes childhood loves don’t live up to memory. This has made me think maybe I’d be safe to go on a return trip sometime… 😀

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      • I stayed quite engrossed in good fantasy into adulthood. I read and reread a lot of children’s and young adult fantasy series when my children were young – I think it was partly escape and nostalgia and partly a fairly quick reading commitment (given the books tended to be shorter than adult lit). The T H White books held up well for me at that time.

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  8. This, so Google assures me, would be the same T H White who later wrote The Goshawk and the Once & Future King 🤔 Whose life encompassed much more besides. I am astonished. And also mad keen to read this. It sounds a total riot! 😂

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    • It is indeed that TH White! I haven’t read The Goshawk but loved The Once and Future King when I was a young’un. this has nothing in common with that except for the quality of the writing and the general fun of it all. He must have been a real fan of mystery novels, I think – he certainly knew all the tropes! 😀

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    • It is! No, he really doesn’t even attempt an Austen pastiche in terms of the characters or style. Without straying into spoiler territory too much, the plot required a huge house with lots and lots of chimneys (intriguing, eh?) and I thought that might be why he chose Pemberley as his setting.

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  9. I’ve never heard of this, and did a double take since the title was so close to P D James’s sequel to P&P! However I do have his kids novel Mistress Masham’s Repose which is a mash-up of Gulliver’s Travels and a classic youngster’s adventure tale and which I’ve been meaning to reread and review. I’ve also got his The Book of Merlyn to treat the same: it’s a sort of fourth part to The Once and Future King trilogy except it includes bits that were obviously drafts for The Sword in the Stone. This Pemberley novel certainly intrigues though!

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    • I know, I keep getting the two titles confused too, and had to double check which one Martin Edwards had included on his list. I loved The once and Future King series when I was a kid though I haven’t revisited it since for fear it might not live up to my memory of it. This one is entirely different, but I think it’s the quality of his writing that carries it off – and his sense of fun! he must have been a real mystery fan, I think – he certainly knew all the tropes. :d

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  10. My heart aches when I see a 5 star review and think there’s no way I’m going to get to read it (at least soon) but I see it’s published in 1932 so could sneak on to my classics club list at the expense of one of those boring tomes that I can’t bring myself to read!

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  11. Don’t you love when this happens? Your critical brain can’t wrap your head around how ridiculous something is, but you’re too busy enjoying it to care? I feel that way about a few books sometimes, rom coms, etc. Sometimes I have to actively tell myself to just stop overthinking things, and read a book for pleasure, which is where these types of books really shine.

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    • Haha, yes – it’s fun when that happens! I feel that reviewing maybe makes us overly critical and makes it harder to just switch off and enjoy a romp. I do judge books differently depending what genre they’re in, but I still know I can be guilty of over-thinking, so it’s nice when a book just carries us along!

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