Darkness At Pemberley

By T. H. White

Today Terence Hanbury White has a permanent place in English literature as the author of several inimitable fantasies. What is not generally known, however, is that in his earlier years T. H. White was an avid detective story enthusiast, and wrote at least one fine detective novel, which unfortunately became lost in the Depression years.

Darkness At Pemberley was first published in England in 1932, at which time it received excellent reviews for a book by a then-unknown author. It successfully combined two important story trends of the period: an intellectual puzzle (one of the more ingenious locked-room puzzles of the decade) and an action plot that any of the major mystery story writers of the day would have been proud of. What with these two themes Police Inspector Buller soon finds himself in problems far beyond his depth.

As is to be expected of Mr. White, in addition to the main story there are the countless little touches of imagination that make his work unusual. There is the setting of the first murder, in a university easily recognized as Queen's College, Cambridge — for which the publisher forced Mr. White to insert a disclaimer about the morals (medicinal, homicidal, etc.) of dons. And there is the strange interplay at the country house of Pemberley, where the question perpetually arises, who is trapping whom, detective or criminal?

Contains 3 diagrams in 286pp. (5 3/8 x 8").

First published by V. Gollancz, London in 1932. The first American edition was published by Century, New York in 1933. A new edition was released by Dover, New York in 1978.

Darkness At Pemberley is about police detective Buller who is called upon to solve two mysterious deaths. A college professor has been murdered in his room. He was overheard by two witnesses starting a record player in his room, but shortly after he does not answer his phone, and is later found dead. Nobody entered the room in the meantime. Inspector Buller is able to solve the mystery, but cannot find sufficient evidence to convict the clever murderer.

The murderer disappears, and detective Buller, needing a rest, leaves for the country to visit a friend who owns the impressive estate of Pemberley. But the murderer follows him there to terrorize the whole company. They are made aware of this malevolent presence when attempts are made on the life of Buller's host Charles Darcy. The story climaxes when it is discovered that the killer is hiding within the network of large chimneys—and he has abducted the hostess into the gloom with him!

The novel is in two parts, and only the first (and shorter) part should be considered a detective novel. It contains not only one map, as popular at the time, but three, and has a proper mystery at its core which the detective has to solve. The second (and more interesting) part concentrates on the evil and ingenious murderer hiding in the large mansion and trying to kill the owner of Pemberley (whose name, of course, is Darcy). We assume that this is the part which made the apodictical Jacques Barzun remark that the novel has a weak plot (in his A catalogue of crime, New York, 1989). Although the work is undoubtedly a potboiler (as White himself admitted) it is not so much a detectivel novel as a study in claustrophobia and fear.

Darkness At Pemberley is a suspense-filled story, and is told with White's comfortable charm and humour reminiscent of The Sword in the Stone and Mistress Masham's Repose.

England Have My Bones: For the Reader of the Works of T. H. White
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Unless otherwise noted, entire contents 1996, J. Moulder and M. Schaefer. All rights reserved.
Revised Saturday, 28-Sep-2002 22:11:13 CDT.