It’s the 1960s and Lord Darcy is a criminal investigator: but is he suave like the Saint, flamboyant like Jason King, or groovy like Austin Powers? Well there is no direct comparison to be made as he lives on a parallel earth with no Swinging Sixties in sight.
History changed when Richard I was not killed at Chaluz in 1199 and ended up outliving his brother John (a Bad Man who in our world became a Bad King and thus a Bad Thing) eventually being succeeded by his nephew Arthur who ushered in a second age of Camelot. During this time St. Hilary of Walsingham set out his Laws of Magic and so the road of progress moved away from the scientific. The most advanced natural technology in Lord Darcy’s world is the teleson, a form of telephone, although it is more expensive for a local call than to take a cab across London and no one has been able to get the cabling right to carry across the Channel.
Master Sean O Lochlainn, Chief Forensic Sorceror to His Royal Highness, Richard, Duke of Normandy, and regular partner of Lord Darcy, is attending the Triennial Convention of Healers and Sorcerors when Master Sir James Zwinge, Chief Forensic Sorceror for the City of London, is murdered inside his locked bedroom. As the dead man’s last words were “Master Sean! Help!” Sean soon finds himself in the Tower of London and so Lord Darcy is dragged semi-unwillingly into the case.
Garrett has created a magnificent world for his characters to inhabit and my copy includes the ten short stories in which they appear, in publication order, so being able to read three cases first sets the scene well for this novel.
This title appeared on my radar as it is fourteenth on the Ed Hoch Best 15 Locked Room Mystery and as I’m a sucker for a parallel world – one of my favourite Doctor Who stories is “Inferno” with Jon Pertwee – this had been on my wishlist for some time. My immediate reaction on the solution to the locked room was disappointment as it didn’t fit in with my expectations – although to a degree it did – and if it had it probably wouldn’t have made the Hoch list and then I wouldn’t have been aware of it -and it clearly wasn’t what Garrett was intending to do, either in this book, or through the stories as a whole. Also I was not well and awaiting the result of a covid test -fortunately negative – so that may have had something to do with it.
However, I did enjoy continuing to learn about the principles of forensic magic and how they provide Lord Darcy with the evidence from which he can draw his conclusions, and I recommend this stylish book for taking the principles of detection into a brand new scenario.
One word of warning, leave the introduction to the end as it reveals far too much.