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Literature / Lord Darcy

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Fantasy/Detective series written by Randall Garrett in the 1960s and 1970s, set in an Alternate History with two major branches from our own:

  1. King Richard The Lion Heart survived the crossbow wound and subsequent infection that killed him in our history, but the narrow escape caused him to reconsider his life and become a famously great monarch. Nobody ever got around to agitating for Magna Carta, and in the twentieth century the Plantagenet dynasty still rules absolutely in England — not to mention France, most of the rest of western Europe, and North and South America.
  2. The course of scientific discovery went down a different path, with the result that magic and psychic powers are well-understood phenomena with clearly-defined rules (but nobody knows much, or cares, about the physical sciences).

As a result, in the 1970s, the Angevin Empire's society and technology largely resemble those of, to pick a comparison entirely at random, the Sherlock Holmes stories. But with wizards.

Lord Darcy is an official investigator for His Highness the Duke of Normandy, solving mysteries too weird or too politically sensitive for the normal police to handle. He is ably assisted by Master Sorcerer Sean O Lochlainn, a one-man magical CSI department.

In the later stories, Lord Darcy and Master Sean increasingly often become entangled in the espionage and counter-espionage of their world's version of the Cold War, between the Angevin Empire and the ambitious-but-not-strong-enough-to-wage-conventional-war Polish Empire.

Lord Darcy was introduced in 1964. Murder and Magic (1979) and Lord Darcy Investigates (1981) collect all of the Lord Darcy stories, bar two that were published later. Garrett also wrote one Lord Darcy novel, Too Many Magicians (1966), which fits between. A 2002 omnibus edition collects all three books and the two stray stories.

In the 1980s, following Garrett's death, his friend and fellow-author Michael Kurland wrote two more Lord Darcy novels, Ten Little Wizards (1988) and A Study in Sorcery (1989).

The series provides examples of:

  • Allohistorical Allusion: In one of Kurland's novels, a character views paintings of Plantagenet monarchs past, and speculates about how horribly history could've gone, had King Richard died sooner and the throne had passed to his Jerkass brother, instead of his nephew.
  • Always Murder: Well, mostly. Subverted in "The Sixteen Keys", where it turns out they already know what the victim died of (it was natural causes—kinda), and just need Darcy to figure out where he'd hidden an important document before he snuffed it.
  • America Is Still a Colony: History diverged around 1199: the Anglo-French Empire is still ruled by a descendant of Richard The Lion Heart's nephew Arthur, and controls most of western Europe as well as America.
  • Arrowgram: At the beginning of Michael Kurland's A Study in Sorcery, a company of English soldiers are escorting a group of Native Americans through the lands of another tribe with whom they have a bad history. The chief of the local tribe sends a message arrow into the tent of the head soldier, warning him that they plan to attack and giving him a chance to withdraw his men. (History being somewhat different in this series, the message is written in formal English on mass-produced notepaper with a printed letterhead.)
  • Asshole Victim: The dead nobleman in "The Eyes Have It" was widely disliked and hated and there's no shortage of potential suspects. When Darcy determines the killer was the man's sister and she'd killed him in self defense when he tried to rape her, he's content to let the matter drop while the authorities search for a woman who doesn't exist. Although the implication is they're not going to try too hard.
  • The Baroness: Olga Polovski, Agent 055 of Serka, the Polish Secret Service, repeatedly named in-text as "The most beautiful and the most dangerous woman in Europe".
  • Black Magic: Combined with Saintly Church, in that performing any kind of harmful deed through magic (even injuring a criminal in defensive combat) causes irreparable mental damage of some sort. The clergy function as magical psychologists of a sort; though they can't "cure" people of the resulting (or causative!) evilness, they can magically detect psychosis and render such people incapable of working magic to prevent further harm to a black magician's mind. As a result, practicing magic requires an official license gained through examination by the clergy.
  • Blue Blood: Extremely prevalent, and even explained in-universe—the involvement of the office of the Duke's Investigator is required for crimes involving members of the aristocracy, while city Armsmen (local police departments) handle the investigation of crimes among the common people. Although the Duke's Investigator are also legally required to be called upon for assistance by the Armsmen in any case that goes beyond their ability to solve, so Darcy does handle several matters on that social level as well.
  • Blue-Collar Warlock: Many magician characters are skilled tradesmen (for example, a locksmith in The Sixteen Keys).
  • Breakfast in Bed: In the novella Too Many Magicians, Lord Darcy is amused to be brought caffe in bed by his Love Interest, Lady Mary, exclaiming "Ah! Capital! A Duchess for a serving wench!"
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: The Marquis of London, who Darcy believes could solve any case if he ever actually bothered to get up and leave his house.
  • Brainwashing for the Greater Good: Lord Seiger is a natural psychopath whose homicidal urges are suppressed by a Church-imposed geas.
  • Christianity is Catholic: Literally so, as the Protestant Reformation never happened in this Verse. Although Eastern Orthodox is certainly around (in fact, in this Verse, the Byzantine Empire still exists) we don't get to really see any of it, and all the Christian clergy we see is Catholic.
  • Clarke's Third Law: Inverted. There are instances of devices that work on clearly understood principles, in our world, but in the Darcy world, their sages have no idea how they work, just that they do. Examples include the teleson (a telephone), and a device created by a top secret military research program: a flashlight.
  • Clear Their Name:
  • Combat Clairvoyance: Commander Lord Ashley, in Too Many Magicians, has just a touch of magical talent that gives him the occasional burst of prescience. The most dramatic presentation of this power comes when he's fighting an opponent armed with an enchanted sword that's effectively invisible; Ashley's power lets him accurately predict the other man's movements.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: At the end of Too Many Magicians, it is revealed that the crimes were committed by an officer who was Trapped by Gambling Debts in an attempt to recruit him as a double agent under threat of speaking to his superior about it and ruining his career. Lord Darcy remarks that had the offer to recruit come a bit earlier, the officer, instead of all the crimes, would have simply told his boss the debts were a deliberate gambit to draw out the spy ring, and would have had a successful career as a triple agent.
  • Cramming the Coffin: In "The Muddle of the Woad", a murder victim is hidden in a coffin and is discovered when the carpenter tries to deliver the coffin to the widow of the man who it had been intended for and finds it much heavier than it was supposed to be.
  • Creepy Red Herring: In "A Case of Identity", Lord Seiger is a very disturbing man who works for the missing Marquis of Cherbourg and who creeps out the Marquis's wife. He is in fact a homicidal psychopath, but a geas has been placed on him by the Church to render him safe and keep him safe from others. He is incapable of using force on others unless instructed to by his superior.
  • Dead Man's Chest: The woodworkers preparing to deliver the coffin of the Duke of Kent in "The Muddle of the Woad" are surprised to find that a body's already been stashed in it.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: In "The Muddle of the Woad", and in Ten Little Wizards - in the latter, the first scene is of the impersonation, but the identity of the person being impersonated is hidden.
  • Detective Mole: In Too Many Magicians, the murderer is one of the people conducting the investigation; the people he murdered had each discovered, or were about to discover, that he had been subverted by the Polish secret service.
  • Dialogue Reversal: In "The Eyes Have It", Darcy asks Sean about "the eyes" as a possible source for clues, and Sean replies "You mean the picture test, me lord?". In A Study In Sorcery, Darcy suggests "the picture test", and Sean replies, "You mean the eye test, my lord?".
  • Disability Alibi: In one story, a suspect is cleared of the actual murder (if not another crime) when it's confirmed that he's not faking his paralysis, and thus could not have climbed the stairway to the murder scene.
  • The Empath: Sensitives (most of them priests) can sense the state of someone's mind, discover mental illnesses and identify a person by their mental "signature".
  • Ensign Newbie: Lieutenant Darcy is a self-acknowledged one in "The Spell of War", learning from his Sergeant Rock.
  • Everybody Did It: Proposed and then shot down in "The Napoli Express", in a fairly obvious critique of Murder on the Orient Express.
  • Exact Words:
    • In "The Napoli Express", Lord Darcy is pretending to be a priest. When an investigator asks if he knows anything about criminology, he says that he has heard the confessions of criminals many times.
    • Kurland's A Study In Sorcery:
      • The Angevin governor of New England guarantees his agents' loyalty with a magically-reinforced oath, by which they swear to be loyal servants to their sovereign and his appointed proxies. Unfortunately, the oath's wording neglects to name the sovereign to be served, to save having to reconstruct the spell every time a new king takes the throne, which means a Polish spy can take the oath without consequence by staying loyal to Poland's monarch.
      • Also an issue with Pyramid Island's avoidance spell, which was designed to repel anyone without a legitimate purpose in coming there. Turns out that the gun-runners honestly believed that smuggling weapons on and off the island was a "legitimate" purpose.
    • In "The Eyes Have It", Darcy asks the family priest to divert the Countess from her guests' presence for a few minutes. The priest tells her that the steward requires her attention, and Darcy muses that, since a priest wouldn't knowingly tell a lie, he must've pre-arranged for the steward to request Her Ladyship's aid at that specific moment.
  • Eye Remember: Used in an attempt to discover the murderer's identity in "The Eyes Have It". Subverted in that the image retrieved is the victim's subjective view of the murderer, which doesn't really look anything like her.
  • Faking the Dead: In Michael Kurland's A Study in Sorcery, an attempt on Lord Darcy's life apparently succeeds, but it's actually a ruse to draw the murderer out of hiding.
  • Fantastic Catholicism: Most priests have magical abilities - Healing, Sensing, or, in some cases, both.
  • A Foggy Day in London Town: An important plot sequence in Too Many Magicians happens during a pea-soup foggy London night. It's also stated that psychics can foresee when fog will be present and disperse, and their predictions are part of the newspaper weather report.
  • For Want of a Nail: Richard the Lionheart's survival resulted in the discovery that led to the harnessing of magic. (It might be easier to imagine a timeline in which the harnessing of magic resulted in Richard's survival, but it's explicitly stated that in this timeline Richard's survival came first.) The explanation is that Richard's brush with death caused him to change his rulership style. For the remainder of his reign, he encouraged learning and the arts. And this trend continued under his successor; his nephew Arthur. It was the academic environment fostered by Richard and Arthur that led to the discovery of the rules of magic.
  • Functional Magic: More functional than science, as it basically supplants it in this universe.
  • Funetik Aksent: Polish characters who aren't trying to disguise themselves as Angevin subjects tend to have this.
  • Geas: One of the characters is a psychopath with murderous tendencies, and thus had a geas put on him that makes him incapable of harming anyone unless he's given a specific code word by his superior. (self-defense is not an included option, since a psychopath may interpret a simple slap as something justifying a murder) It's mentioned that geas are often used to "treat" people with dangerous mental conditions.
  • Gentleman Wizard: Several minor characters (including a couple of victims). Recurring character Lord John Quetzal is an interesting case, as he's a nobleman and a gentleman, but he's from the colonies (Mexico, in our version of reality), which gives him some interesting quirks.
  • Glamour: A non-magical version occurs is "The Eyes Have It" when it's revealed that the image extracted from a dead man's eyes isn't what he saw, it's what he perceived. Once he knows this, Darcy realizes that the killer, an impossibly beautiful woman seen in that image, doesn't exist. It's how the dead man pictured his sister in his mind, and she killed him in self-defense when he attempted to sexually assault her.
  • Glamour Failure: Spells such as illusion stop being effective when one looks into a mirror, as the spell acts on the mind of others rather than the environment, and thus an illusory object won't have a reflection.
  • Great Detective: Both Darcy himself and his cousin the Marquis of London.
  • Hand of Glory: Lord Darcy finds one in "The Eyes Have It".
  • Impersonation-Exclusive Character: In Ten Little Wizards, the first scene is of a character's murder so that they can be impersonated. It's not until the climax that we find out who the assassin was impersonating.
  • Infodump: Because the stories were originally published separately, the exposition about Richard the Lionheart surviving and magic being developed gets repeated over and over again in every story.
    • The 2002 omnibus edition removes most of the repeated sections.
  • Intrinsic Vow: The King's Messengers all take one to never reveal an official message to anyone but the intended recipient. It's backed up by a magical compulsion to die rather then reveal it.
  • Istanbul (Not Constantinople): Especially when it comes to the Americas, which are called New England (North A.) and New France (South A.).
  • It Will Never Catch On: In one story, a wizard speaks disparagingly of a folk superstition that wounds can be treated with a kind of mould. In another, a man engaged in chemical research is regarded as a time-wasting eccentric (although Darcy, at least, thinks he's on to something).
  • The Laws of Magic: The series could practically serve as a textbook on the subject.
  • Locked Room Mystery: At least half the series. Notably, in spite of the obvious temptation, the answer is never "A Wizard Did It" (Though in one case a wizard tried to do it, but failed because someone else did it first).
  • Magic A Is Magic A: Magic is so systematized that performing a particular spell will always have the same result.
  • Magic Compass:
    • In one story, Master Sean enchanted a splinter left behind by a murder weapon and used it to find the rest of the weapon.
    • "The Ipswich Phial" has Master Sean give Lord Darcy a "tracker", a piece of wood broken and enchanted so that the holder of one piece can tell where the other is.
    • Another character has this as one of his magical abilities—once he locks onto someone, he can tell which direction and roughly how far (up to a certain range) the target is from his location.
  • Magic Wand: A different sort for practically every spell Sean O Lochlainn carries out, of various colors, materials, sizes and decorations.
  • Majored in Western Hypocrisy: Several instances, though all without the hypocrisy part because the Angevin Empire is better than its counterparts in our world.
    • The most prominent example is Lord John Quetzal, a native American nobleman who is studying in London in Too Many Magicians.
    • The "character wrong-footed by foreigner's education" version appears in Michael Kurland's A Study in Sorcery, where Lord Darcy meets a woman who has invented a dramatic past for herself that includes a stint in the harem of the son of the Osmanli Sultan; in the course of dissecting her story, he mentions that he and the son of the Osmanli Sultan were at Oxford together.
  • Miming the Cues: In "The Napoli Express", a murder is committed while Lord Darcy is undercover, leaving him unable to take official charge of the investigation. While another detective leads the investigation with Master Sean's assistance, Lord Darcy uses hand-signals to prompt Master Sean to suggest "what Lord Darcy would do next if he were here".
  • Mind over Manners: The priests, especially Sensitives, often refuse to dig through someone's mind without a really good reason because of their work ethic.
  • Modern Mayincatec Empire: Garrett left the state of things in the Americas largely undefined, but Too Many Magicians mentions that the Aztec emperor Montezuma's descendants now rule "Mechicoe" as noblemen of the Angevin Empire. Michael Kurland's A Study in Sorcery, being set largely in North America, is much more specific, and adds that part of the Aztec Empire continues unabated farther south.
  • Mr. Exposition: Master Sean, who's a teacher when he's not helping bust criminals, has a tendency to accompany every forensic test he does with an explanatory lecture. Lord Darcy encourages him, even when he's seen this test done before, because the lecture is never exactly same, so there's always a chance to learn something. This habit of Sean's is justified by explaining that he was formerly employed as a university professor in the subject, so he's gotten in the habit of explaining what he's doing to the audience every time he does it. It's also mentioned that doing so helps him maintain his focus on the task.
  • Muggle with a Degree in Magic: Sir Thomas Leseaux, who has no magical ability, but is the world's leading expert in creating new spells due to his knowledge of magical theory.
  • The Neidermeyer: The commander of Darcy's unit in "The Spell of War".
  • Noodle Incident: In "Too Many Magicians", a few of Darcy's unseen cases are mentioned in passing, but nothing more is revealed about them. Similarly, at least one case mentioned by a Fan Boy in "Ten Little Wizards" is not covered in the extant stories.
  • Obfuscating Postmortem Wounds: Played with in A Study In Sorcery, in which a body is found in an Aztec pyramid with its heart cut out. Investigators posit that this was done after the victim's murder, so as to cast blame on a hypothetical Aztec cult. It turns out the killer was European, and cut out the heart to retrieve a bullet that would have incriminated him specifically.
  • Origins Episode: "The Spell of War", one of the last-published stories, recounts the first meeting of Lord Darcy and Master Sean on a battlefield during their world's equivalent of World War II.
  • Only One Name: Lord Darcy's given name is never revealed. In "The Spell of War", where he's not yet inherited his title, he's referred to as "Lieutenant Darcy".
  • Orient Express: "Murder on the Napoli Express" is set on the Angevin Empire's counterpart to the famous train.
  • Palate Propping: Master Sean detects a sorcerous booby-trap on Laird Duncan's traveling trunk in "The Eyes Have It", and blocks its lid from severing his hand when he reaches inside it with this method.
  • Paranormal Gambling Advantage: Too Many Magicians has a character Trapped by Gambling Debts after attempting to use his limited prescience to cheat in a casino. It gave him some edge, just not enough when an actual wizard with telekinesis was sitting in the next room.
  • Perception Filter: The avoidance spell makes people subconsciouly avoid looking at or noticing anything it's cast upon, serving as a more effective version of an invisibility spell (which is discussed and then discarded as not helping with sounds or smells).
  • Phone-In Detective: The Marquis of London (an Expy of Nero Wolfe).
  • Poirot Speak: Played with in "The Bitter End", which is set in Paris and features the alternate universe version of Inspector Clouseau.
  • Police Are Useless: Not normally the case (the police are the main characters), but in "The Bitter End", Sean finds himself held as a possible suspect in a murder by the incompetent Sergeant Cougair Chasseur for no reason beyond the fact that since the method of murder wasn't obvious, a wizard must have done it (which later turns out not to have been the case), and Sean happened to be a wizard who coincidentally was in the same pub as the deceased when he was discovered to be dead.
  • Richard Nixon, the Used Car Salesman: In a world where the automobile was never invented, Ferrari of Milan is a noted manufacturer of firearms.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Captain Rimbaud in "The Spell of War" planned to have his men charge the Polish troops before their artillery could shell the ravine, rather than retreat and report the field pieces' position as Darcy suggests. Rimbaud was merely determined not to fall back because he considered it cowardly, but given that the Polish troops were illusions, it would've actually been the correct tactic under the circumstances.
  • Royal "We": King John IV uses this when speaking as King-Emperor and drops it on those rare occasions where he needs to speak man to man.
  • Saintly Church: Apparently magic makes it possible to ensure that only suitable people become priests (and has presumably cleared up the whole is-there-a-God question, although that point is never really addressed).
  • Secret-Keeper: In A Study In Sorcery, Darcy and Sean are entrusted with the Gemini Secret of long-distance communication between the Old and New World, a very important state asset which they swear never to reveal.
  • Secret Test: A children's puzzle-toy displayed at the sorcerers' convention in Too Many Magicians also serves as a test for magical ability. If a child is Talented, their own gift will keep the toy operational even after its built-in enchantment has expired.
  • Serial Killings, Specific Target: The ultimate target in Ten Little Wizards.
  • Smoking Gun Control: A character once comments that detective work in cities would be a lot easier without all the anti-scrying spells placed on homes and businesses. Darcy comments that if these were not there, detective work would be non-existent—you could just call in a journeyman sorcerer to use some basic divination spells and the case would be solved in under an hour. He also mentions that this would also eliminate all hope of personal privacy, as any interested mage could scry into your house or office whenever they wanted (this being the reason that anti-scrying spells are placed on homes and businesses in the first place).
  • Spell Construction: Although magic is limited to those with the Talent, actually casting a spell requires intricate and specific ingredients and actions.
  • The Stars Are Going Out: In "The Ipswich Phial", a top-secret magical effect makes Father Lyon think this has happened, by causing a sort of hysterical blindness in a localized area.
  • Stealth Pun: The infamous subplot in Too Many Magicians involving the uncle from the Isle of Man.
  • Sufficiently Analyzed Magic: A key element to the whole series. Magic has been analyzed to the point it can be taught as an university topic and has clear laws that are so obvious and rigid, "regular" science (which doesn't adhere to stuff like Law of Similariy or Law of Relevance) is considered obviously false.
  • Summation Gathering: Most notably in Too Many Magicians, but also in several of the other stories.
  • Superpowerful Genetics: In order to practice magic, one must be born with "the Talent". This exists to varying degrees, such that only a small portion of the population can work magic, some others exhibit strange powers, nearly all can at least perceive strong magic to some extent, and a few on the other end are magically inert and utterly unable to directly sense the supernatural. Interestingly, the world's foremost magical theorist and expert in the symbolic manipulations underlying modern magic happens to be unable to work magic at all.
  • Sword Cane: In "The Napoli Express", a sword cane (and the fact that it wasn't used) provides a vital clue in solving the murder.
  • That Old-Time Prescription: The series occasionally shows that medical science dead-ended once magic turned out to be easier by having somebody refer to "superstitious folk remedies" such as treating wounds with mould or using foxglove extract to treat heart trouble.
  • Thriller on the Express: The Napoli Express, being a homage to Murder on the Orient Express.
  • Trapped by Gambling Debts: Happens to one character in Too Many Magicians.
  • Try to Fit That on a Business Card: The King's official titles:
    "John IV, by the Grace of God, King and Emperor of England, France, Scotland, Ireland, New England and New France, King of the Romans and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Defender of the Faith." That's the short version. The long one includes a bunch of knightly orders and additional Alternate Universe name-drops (e.g. Supreme Chief of the Moqtessumid Clan).
  • Tuckerization: Michael Kurland gets name-checked several times in various stories, and the greatest wizards of the Angevin Empire include Sir Lyon Gandolphus Grey (L. Sprague de Camp by way of J. R. R. Tolkien), Sir Edward Elmer (E. E. "Doc" Smith), and Sir James Zwinge (Randall James Zwinge, aka The Amazing Randi).
  • Twin Telepathy: A minor plot point in Michael Kurland's A Study in Sorcery.
  • Uncoffee: Referred to instead as "caffe". One reference in Ten Little Wizards indirectly implies it may actually be hot chocolate, not coffee.
  • Unfriendly Fire: In "The Spell of War", Darcy, a young officer at the time, chooses not to notice that the commander of his unit—who'd been a tyrant and endangered the men—had a low-angle bullet entry wound from a pistol... received while under fire from a sniper who was using a rifle from a high angle. (The soldier who killed him died almost immediately afterward, while the one piece of evidence—the body—is destroyed in an artillery barrage; Darcy chooses to protect the soldier's reputation.)
  • Unreliable Narrator: The opening of Too Many Magicians has the close third-person thoughts of an intelligence agent noting that he couldn't see any evidence to indicate who might have committed the murder. At the end of the novel, it revealed he had been checking to make sure he hadn't left any behind.
  • Utility Magic: Most spells have fairly Mundane Utility. The one Master Sean uses most commonly is a preservation spell, whose primary purpose is to keep the body from decomposing, but is also applied in this world's equivalent of fridges.
  • Who Murdered the Asshole: Count D'Evreux, the victim in "The Eyes Have It", has many personality flaws. The underling who finds his body says outright that he'd always expected the Count to wind up being done in by somebody.
    Marquis of Rouen: If Your Highness is looking for motive, I fear there is a superabundance of persons with motive.
  • World of Pun: Not at the pun-per-paragraph extreme, but the series definitely keeps the punometer ticking away. Especially when it comes to the literary shout-outs, which are often veiled behind the French equivalent of Canis Latinicus, as with master-spy James le Lien.note 
  • You Are in Command Now: Happens to both Darcy and Sean in "The Spell Of War".

Alternative Title(s): Too Many Magicians