Darkness at Pemberley
by T. H. White

amazon.com  (out of print)


         Review by Lynn Lamy, 17 April 1999

The title of this book proclaims it to be "A Little-known Detective Story by the Author of  The Once and Future King and The book or Merlyn."  It is a detective story, and despite the popularity of the other two books mentioned, I believe I know why this book is so little known.

Darkness at Pemberley begins with a murder at a Cambridge college, and the discovery of a second body found to be killed with the same gun.  It is quickly ruled as a murder-suicide, but there seems to be little motive for either, and the detective on the case, one Inspector Buller, is suspicious.  Buller examines all the details closely, with some assistance from his coroner friend, Dr. Wilder.  He is convinced he knows who did it, but he cannot prove it, nor can he quite figure out how the murderer did it.  Finally, one evening he comes across the murderer, and bluntly states that he knows Mauleverer killed both men.  Mauleverer confesses that he did indeed kill both men, and explains exactly how.  Because there is no way to prove it was him, beyond this verbal confession, and because through his error, Mauleverer kills the only other person who might help prove it, Buller resigns from his position.

The book then takes us to Pemberley, the present owner of which Buller is good friends with. His name is Sir Charles Darcy, and he lives at Pemberley with his sister Elizabeth.  Sir Charles is a social outcast, having spent time in prison for possession of cocaine, a crime of which he is not truly guilty.  Buller is in love with Elizabeth, but does not hope of a return.  Upon reaching his friends at Pemberley, Buller tells them the story of his resignation and the murders that led up to it.  Sir Charles is intrigued.

The next day, Elizabeth and Buller find that Sir Charles is gone, and when he returns later that day, it is to tell them he has seen Mauleverer, and has told Mauleverer he will kill him within a week. Buller immediately senses danger, and is afraid for Sir Charles's life.  What follows is a game of cat and mouse, with Sir Charles the mouse and Mauleverer the cat.  Buller, Elizabeth and Sir Charles try to outwit the most witty character Buller has ever come across in order to save Sir Charles' life.

This 'mystery' is not especially entertaining.  The first part of the book, dealing with the murders in Cambridge, are interesting mystery reading, but the moment Buller confronts Mauleverer with his suspicions, the plot becomes ridiculous and improbable.  The second part of the book, dealing with the events at Pemberley, is even worse.  Mauleverer is somehow living in the maze of chimneys at Pemberley, playing games by visiting them at night.  Buller tries to outwit him (with some pretty clever tricks and some help from his old friend Dr. Wilder), but somehow Mauleverer hears every conversation Buller has, or has already thought of every possible eventuality of his stay in the chimneys of Pemberley.  Every page got more and more ridiculous, and it was all I could do even finish the book.

The only possible connection this book has to Jane Austen is it's unprincipled use of Pemberley as a location, and a bit of the Darcy family history.  The rest of the plot is completely unrelated to Pride and Prejudice.  If it were an entertaining read, that would be excusable, but it is merely an exercise in tedium.

If you are looking for a strange and convoluted 'mystery' (to my mind, it's not really a mystery, just a mouse hunt), then by all means give this book a try.  If you're looking for a Jane Austen related book, you had better look elsewhere!