A collection of four short stories set in an alternate Earth.

Publication year: 1981, short story first publications 1974-1979
Page count: 229
Format: print
Publisher: Ace

The collection has the following stories: “A Matter of Gravity” (1974), “The Ipswich Phial” (1976), “The Sixteen Keys” (1976) , and “The Napoli Express” (1979).

Lord Darcy, the Chief Forensic Investigator for the Duke of Normandy, is given four cases. Most of them are murder cases with a side dish of spying or a lost item. The stories are detective stories set in a world where magic works. Magic is used in a scientific way as a forensic tool. Lord Darcy himself doesn’t have a magical Talent but his faithful sidekick Sean O Lachlainn is a master sorcerer. The two seem to have worked for a long time and trust each other implicitly. In fact, if one of the stories didn’t have an adventure with a woman, I would think that they are lovers.

In the first story, Lord Darcy and Sean investigate a locked room murder of Count de la Vexin. In the second story, an agent of the King’s Secret Service asks Lord Darcy to solve the murder of another agent and to get back the phial the murdered agent was carrying. In the third one, Lord Vauxhall dies while carrying secret papers. The papers disappear and Lord Darcy is called in to find them. In the final story, Lord Darcy and Sean are undercover in the Napoli Express train.

I enjoyed all of the series but especially the last one which is clearly a homage to Agatha Christie. However, the second story’s beginning turned out to be misleading which was frustrating.

Still, I was far more interested in the setting and the information we got about how this world is different from ours. King John rules a large Anglo-French Empire and his chief opponent seems to be Poland’s King Casimir IX whose secret police, the Serka, features in almost all of the stories. The people are also very religious which is different from the usual fantasy stories.