Thursday, October 29, 2015
The Evil in Pemberley House (Philip Jose Farmer & Win Scott Eckert, Meteor House, 2014)
Set in the early 1970s, the novel follows Patricia Wildman, daughter of James Clarke Wildman (aka Doc Savage), as she discovers that she may stand to inherit Pemberley Hall, an ancestral manor in England. The news comes at an opportune time; having just lost both her parents and her husband in a matter of months - Patricia's been having a rough time of it. Add to that her unresolved Electra complex towards her father, and you can image the mess her mental and emotional state were in. A vacation in England may be just the thing to clear her head.
Unfortunately, things seem even crazier in England - she quickly learns that everyone in and around Pemberley House is completely sex-mad, and only the current Duchess, at age 103, isn't trying to get into her skirt. Within hours of arrival in England, she's not only leered at by her cousin Richard (who proceeds to receive fellatio from a local barmaid while driving Patricia to Pemberley) but sexually assaulted by an aggressive lesbian poacher who runs their car off the road. Nobody seems willing to take "no" for an answer from her as she's groped, prodded, drugged, molested...despite all this, Patricia is determined to get to the bottom of whatever mysteries Pemberley holds - is it haunted? Is the Duchess trying to drive her away from the House? If so, why? And why can't anybody keep their hands out of her knickers for five minutes?
I was not prepared for the quantity of sex in this book. I knew in advance that it would be playing with the tropes of Gothic fiction (Pemberley House, after all, being the setting of Pride and Prejudice), but I didn't realize quite what updating those tropes to the 1970s would entail. It took me more than a little by surprise, I can tell you!
Which is not to say that it's a book meant to be read one-handed. The sex scenes aren't written to be salacious or titillating; given the conceits of the Wold Newton universe, it's intended to be a frank and "historical" chronicle of events as they happened to Ms. Wildman. And while the sex may seem to dominate my synopsis above (and what can I say, I am an individual of prurient interests), and is a dominating theme in the novel, it's not the exclusive source of action, metaphorical or otherwise.
Pat Wildman finds herself in some of the most vicious life-or-death fights I've ever seen committed to the printed page, swinging through trees like her cousin the Lord Greystoke, and using every skill she's ever learned from her father, from Kent Allard, from Holmes' daughter and other tutors to save her skin and get to the bottom of the Pemberley matter.
This being a Gothic novel, despite its 1970s setting, we're treated to updated versions of some of the classic tropes of that genre - a manorial home that is somehow both expansive and claustrophobic, a cast in which everyone has at least one dark secret, buried treasure, the sins of the fathers being visited upon the tenth generation, and even, in what I can only assume was a tip of the hat on Farmer's part to Matthew Lewis' The Monk, a nymphomaniac ghost!
The mystery twists and turns in ways that are imminently satisfying and follow organically from preceding events; nothing feels overly contrived, except possibly the sheer number of Wold Newton descendants who appear; Dr. Moran being the grandson of the infamous Colonel Sebastian Moran, henchman of Holmes' nemesis Moriarty, is a prime example.
Farmer began this novel many years ago, and with his blessing and detailed outlines, Win Scott Eckert completed the novel to Farmer's satisfaction. Truth be told, I couldn't tell you where Farmer's text ends and Eckert's begins; the transition is seamless.
Also worth mentioning, I'd like to note that The Evil in Pemberley House made Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, Farmer's follow-up to Tarzan Alive, "click" for me. I read Doc Savage a few weeks ago, in the immediate aftermath of reading Tarzan Alive, and didn't "get" it because I was expecting it to be of a piece with its predecessor, and it wasn't. I didn't write a review of it at the time because I recognize that I was missing something, and at the time I thought I'd just not read enough Doc Savage for me to get it. But in the wake of The Evil in Pemberley House, I realize that what I wasn't getting was that Farmer wasn't just playing Creative Mythographer, but tearing down the mythology of Doc Savage to look at what such a man would really be like and what effect he would have on those around him. I'll probably give that one another read in the not-too-distant future and review it, now that I understand what it's offering me.
A wild neo-Gothic set in the swinging 1970s, overflowing with sex and psychosexual drama, replete with savage violence, buried treasure, familial secrets and callbacks to classic pulp literature, The Evil of Pemberley House is one not to be missed. A sequel, The Scarlet Jaguar, is coming soon, and I'm eager to sink my teeth into that one as well.