Thursday, January 30, 2014

Darkness at Pemberley: Review

Maybe I'm getting crotchety in my old age.  Or I'm just feeling more critical here in January.  So far, I'm handing out an average of 2.7 stars to books read in 2014.  And I feel kind of bad about this one because two of my favorite bloggers, Yvette (in so many words) and Sergio (Tipping My Fedora), both thought pretty highly of Darkness at Pemberley by T. H. White (1932)--and I'm all, Yeah, it was okay.  Decent little read.

My primary difficulty with the book is that we have two very different things going on even though it's all one story.  In the first section, we have a classic locked room, academic mystery.  Mr. Beedon, a don of St. Barnabas, has been found shot to death in his locked room.  To all appearances, he has committed suicide--but complications arise when a student (who is not one of Beedon's students and apparently unknown to him) is also found dead from a gun shot. And he has been shot by the same gun.  The famous police surgeon from Scotland Yard says that Beedon has obviously shot the student and then shot himself--in remorse or some such thing.  Enter Inspector Buller who is convinced that it is a case of murder all round.  And...barely half-way through the book, we find out he's right and who the murderer is.  But there's no evidence to prove it.  The murderer is so full of how brilliant and uncatchable he is that he knocks off another victim (who might have been able to provide a bit of proof) right under Buller's nose. Buller is so disgusted with himself and his inability to prevent the last murder as well as his inability to bring the crime home to the culprit that he resigns from the force.  Thus endeth the first lesson.

At this point the story goes through a transformation.  Gone is the cozy, locked room, college atmosphere.  Presto-chango, we're off on a "catch-me-if-you can" game of hide and seek in a rambling country mansion (which, by the way is Pemberley and is in the hands of Elizabeth & Fitzwilliam's descendents) and a high-speed car chase just to make things interesting.  There will be an ingenious new gas to try and rid the house of lurking murderers, crawling about the roof with ropes, and escapades in the chimneys.  Buller will be in danger of being roasted alive before the murderer finally gets his due.  Plenty of adventure and excitement--and, of course, a rather sweet little romance between Buller and the female Darcy heir.

The locked room murder is a decent little mystery with a rather clever method of misdirection.  The characters are interesting and engaging.  And I enjoyed White's prose.  I just wish the book hadn't had a split-personality going on--it was like reading two books in one.  Three stars for a good vintage read.

Oh...and thanks to Sergio for sending me a copy back in 2012.  I intended to read it as an extra entry for last year's Vintage Mystery Challenge, but didn't quite fit it in.  So...I'll apply it for this year's "Professional Detective" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.  And that gets me half-way to a diagonal Bingo!


Anonymous said...

Well, I agree Bev, it is definitely two stories in one though I think they are both good stories! But yes, no denying that at all - one wishes perhaps that White had written two books? Really enjoyed the review.

TomCat said...

The book impressed me as White marrying the mystery/thrillers of a previous era with the detective stories of the 1930s: the first part is a traditional locked room mystery set at a college and the other half, the house under siege from a single criminal, reminded me Leroux's The Perfume of the Lady in Black. Devided in two like a Sherlock Holmes novel.

Oh, and I side with Sergio and Yvette on this one. It's a great yarn!

Bev Hankins said...

TomCat: I know I'm in the minority here. Though..not by a bunch. I did rate it a nice even three stars instead of my curmudgeonly 2 and 1 stars that I've handed out a little more liberally in January than is usual.

fredamans said...

Sometimes what is one man's junk is another man's treasure. Sorry it wasn't for you, but still a great review.

Yvette said...

I'm sorry you didn't like the book as much as I did (or Sergio), Bev. There's just no accounting for taste. Ha!

Though I understand your criticism,
the very thing that bothered you didn't bother me at all.

"No two persons ever read the same book."
Edmund Wilson (I'd always thought this was Emerson's quote.)

Tony Renner said...

I'm guessing this is the same T.H. White who wrote the Sword In The Stone? I guess I should stop guessing and start Googling....

Bev Hankins said...

Yes, same T. H. White!