Too Many Magicians (Lord Darcy, #2)by Randall Garrett Published 01 Sep 1979
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Garrett's detective, Lord Darcy, investigates a classic locked-room murder in an unconventional setting--a sorcerer's convention held in barely recognizable London. Gambling, espionage, and mind reading enter the solution.
"Too Many Magicians (Lord Darcy, #2)" Reviews
Writing Style: 3/5
Though originally serialized in a 1960s-era science fiction magazine, this was a novel rather than a short story collection. I thought that Garrett had managed the magazine novella handily, and I was unsure whether or not he could make the transition to a full novel. This was every bit as good as the short form work in Murder and Magic. In some ways, I enjoyed it more because I like longer, more developed works. In other ways, I tired of this a little because it was so similar to the previous collection.
All of the positive qualities of Murder and Magic are on display here, most especially the integrated magical realism and alternate history background. I was able to enjoy experiencing the much expanded imperial English world without feeling that I was being led on a tour by a boisterous showman. An Anglophile would get more out of this though I think. I was unfamiliar with the different state titles and roles within the Church of England, and I'm sure I overlooked a lot of thoughtful detail. I read this in the Lord Darcy omnibus right after finishing the works collected in Murder and Magic. If you are a big Lord Darcy fan or delight in murder mysteries, perhaps you will enjoy the concentrated dose, but I think they're best experienced in small portions. I'm leaving the Lord Darcy universe without having read the final collection, Lord Darcy Investigates. I might return to the remaining works some day, but I think that they all would have been more enjoyable had I read them spread out over installments as they were originally published.
The title, “Too Many Magicians”, and the discovery of a dead body in a sealed and locked room, inside a hotel full of magicians, suggest that what we are about to read is a magical variation on a classic English Golden Age mystery, but this turns out not to be the case. Our Great Detective, Lord Darcy, is more Sherlock Holmes than Hercule Poirot, and the mystery itself is more like a Holmes short story: a dead body is found, Holmes/Darcy does some detecting, makes amazing deductions from a handful of clues, and solves the mystery. And Garrett does a good job with this part of the book: the mystery leaves you baffled until the end, the use of “forensic magic” to discover clues is interesting, and the solution is brilliant (I also appreciated the way that magic was used to commit the crime, which was quite clever). The problem is that there is basically a short story’s worth of material here, leaving about 200 pages for Garrett to fill, which he largely does with a mediocre Cold War-esque spy story (does the slimy, dislikable guy turn out to the villain? Why yes, yes he does, how did you guess?). And Darcy and his associate Sean O Lochlainn turn out to be mediocre Holmes and Watson ripoffs who might get you through a short story but lack sufficient interest for a novel (none of the secondary characters have more than one note to play, either). In particular, having your obvious Holmes homage character give not-quite-as-good versions of some of Holmes' best-known lines doesn't so much make for a better homage as suggest that you yourself have a shortage of ideas. A pleasantly breezy style unfortunately fails to compensate for these shortcomings.
And yet the biggest problem with the novel is the fact that it has its hero say “Anyone who is power in the Empire today . . . is trusted by the little man who has no power, precisely because he knows that we do our best to uncover the occasional [name withheld to avoid spoilers] and remove his power . . .” In other words, the authorities are always good and just and anything bad that happens is the work of a few bad apples, probably assisted (as in this case) by enemies from abroad. This general idea is an important if unstated belief behind most classic English mysteries (Conan Doyle, Christie, Sayers, etc.) as well as many epic fantasy novels, so it almost makes sense that a mystery/fantasy hybrid might come straight out and say it, but there’s a reason that it usually remains unstated: it sounds, quite frankly, either ridiculous or pseudo-totalitarian. And indeed, much about the setting of this book is such that it’s hard to tell whether what you’re reading is a reactionary wet dream or just a gigantic joke. Basically, Garrett creates the magical alternate history that "Too Many Magicians" is set in by going back to the 12th century and eliminating the Magna Carta. This is accomplished by having Richard the Lionhearted a) survive the siege of Chalus-Chabrol and b) not be a terrible king who was only interested in foreign wars (plus, Arthur of Brittany, his nephew and heir in this version of history, is invested with amazing kingly qualities that he almost certainly didn’t have). The result is that England and France remain one country, the Anglo-French empire, which by the mid-20th century dominates the world (annoyingly, they speak “Anglo-French”, rather than simply French, as would almost certainly have been the case: Richard himself spoke almost no English), ruled by the latest of 800 uninterrupted years of Plantagenets, all of whom were wonderful kings. Oh, and every single political development since roughly 1200 didn’t happen, even as the world evolved to look like that of the late Victorians. Plus, magic! It says quite a lot that the magic may actually be the most plausible part of this scenario. However, most of this is just background that doesn't impinge on the book: instead, the aspect of this society that stands out the most to the reader is its extraordinary formality. Every other sentence (at least!) contains somebody’s title: if they have multiple titles, so much the better. First names are hardly ever used: Darcy will refer to his old friend the Duchess of Cumberland as Mary and his Watson stand-in as Sean (though often enough it’s “Master Sean”, since Sean is a master sorcerer), but neither of them ever call him anything other than “my lord”. When Darcy discusses his cousin the Marquis of London with Sean, one of his oldest and closest friends, he never refers to him as anything other than “My Lord Marquis”. Even during the narration, the formality never pauses: in the first few pages, we meet Commander Lord Ashley, Navel Intelligence operative, who is searching a room with a dead body in it. He is referred to -- again, by the author, not by any character -- as “Commander Lord Ashley”, “Lord Ashley”, “his lordship”, “My Lord Commander”, and “My lord the Commander”: apparently it would be an inexcusable breach of protocol to call him simply “Ashley”. This makes, as you might imagine, for an occasionally ludicrous reading experience. Assuming that the explanation isn't simply that Garrett was being paid by the word, I’m inclined to think that this is deliberate, part of the joke: according to the introduction, practically every character is actually a takeoff of another literary character (the above-mentioned Marquis of London is Nero Wolfe, the head of the Sorcerer’s Guild Sir Lyon Gandolphus Gray is obviously Gandalf) or, even worse, of an SF or fantasy writer (e.g. one character is Sir Thomas Leseaux, that is to say Thomas the Waters, which apparently refers to SF writer Thomas Waters: no, I've never heard of him either). It seems, then, that this novel is basically one big inside joke: unfortunately, for those who are not prepared to play "spot the American speculative writer of the '50s and '60s", there’s not enough else to make it worth reading.
In some ways, Lord Darcy is kind of the prototype of Steampunk lit. Except that it isn't set in Victorian England (or other lands of this time period) it is still very similar to Steampunk. There is no electricity, there are trains, but they are steam powered. Otherwise you use horsepower (the REAL 4-legged type) to get around. Where Lord Darcy differs typical Steampunk in 2 main ways. The first, it was set in "modern" times (i.e. the 1960's and 70's) when it was written. The second way that it differs from Steampunk is that magic is very much alive and working. There is some "science" but not a great deal.
I fell madly in love with Lord Darcy when I first read this book, and to this day remain fascinated by him. Part of the appeal is that Darcy is an intelligent man. He's also thoughtful and kind. In many ways he's a much more appealing man than Sherlock Holmes, who I think he was modeled on.
I won't spoil the book by posting spoilers, but I will say--a convention of magicians, where magic works. What's not to love.
A very skillfully woven whodunnit. While set in an alternate Europe with formalised 'rules' of magic (like the laws of science), this also sticks closely to the conventions and unwritten rules of the traditional whodunnit genre. The solution to the mystery may seem a little far-fetched (at least, it would if set in the real world) but it follows clearly and logically from all the clues. Furthermore, there are no hidden clues, things that the detective knows that the reader does not.
Indeed, when the detective lays out all the clues, end to end, the solution is obvious. Yet I could not figure it out until that point
(admittedly, I'm not very good at doing that anyway). The characterisation may be a little thin at times, but the atmosphere and world-building are great, and the mystery and action very satisfying.
Too Many Repetitions
Although I absolutely adore the setting of this book, in a brilliantly constructed alternative universe where the Plantagenet dynasty has continued to reign and other royal lines rule all over the world, the rather pedestrian nature of the writing and above all the endless repetitions --every time, almost, that a certain sorcerer is mentioned he is described as a "tubby Irish sorcerer"--bring it all down.. Still, even though I guessed the murderer correctly almost as soon as he appeared, the book held my interest and I would recommend it.
Garrett's only novella for the Lord Darcy series goes beyond expectations into a complex, interesting and compelling set of murder mysteries that are all irretrievably interrelated. The only real flaw I find is his tendency towards repetition when compared with his other novels regarding certain elements of setting, and his extreme tendency towards detective novel staples (particularly the 'gather everyone in the parlour and accuse someone of the crime' trope) but nonetheless the narrative as a whole is exciting and there's some great expectations subversion at play.