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Allusion is not Illusion

You'll pry my books off my cold, dead body. By the time you shift them all I'll be flat and dessicated.

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Murder and Magic - Randall Garrett
Although this is listed here as Lord Darcy #2, it is first in the collected [b:Lord Darcy|880461|Lord Darcy (Omnibus)|Randall Garrett|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348354975s/880461.jpg|3103213], so I read it first. From pub dates, it looks like all but the last (and weakest) story were published before the novel [b:Too Many Magicians|1898794|Too Many Magicians (Lord Darcy, #1)|Randall Garrett|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1332462576s/1898794.jpg|624981], so the order in the collected volume seems as correct as it could be without breaking the stories loose from the books in which they were originally published.

This book includes four stories:

The Eyes Have It
A Case of Identity
The Muddle of the Woad
A Stretch of the Imagination

The first three are fairly long and complex and could probably have been stretched into full-length novels had Garrett been that kind of guy, but no, he is profligate with his imagination, as well as being a fairly concise writer. This is fortunate in this particular case because the stories were originally published separately in periodicals so there has to be a certain amount of reiteration of the alternate history, who the characters are, how magic works, etc. Garrett handled this smoothly and briefly and it only began to irritate me a little in the third story.

Garrett is obviously inspired by Sherlock Holmes, and the setting is superficially similar to late Victorian England as far as clothes, technology, manners etc are concerned; however, the stories are specifically dated as taking place in the years they are published, in the 1960s. In this alternate history the Plantagenets still rule England, as well as an Empire which includes France, part of North America, and some other bits and pieces (but mostly not the territories that actually comprised the British Empire). My favorite stories were the middle two, when the wider political scene becomes important to the plot, rather than just being added color.

Our protagonist, Lord Darcy, is a bit too much the Platonic form of the detective -- he is brilliant, confident, observant, knows all sorts of obscure information, is physically fit and attractive, an excellent swordsman, can climb buildings and pick locks, is a wealthy nobleman and highly trusted by the royals, and never even loses his temper. I would like to see him struggle a bit more in the full-length novel, either with the case or with some sort of personal difficulty. Darcy's assistant, Sean, is saved from being a Watson by the fact that he is the one doing all the magic. Darcy is not himself a magician, which I think was a smart move on the author's part.

Overall quite fun. Undemanding but engaging.