The Evil in Pemberley House by Philip Jose Farmer and Win Scott Eckert, isbn 9781596062498, 214 pages, Subterranean Press, $40.00
(also available in a Limited signed & numbered edition with addtional chapbook for $60).
I'll admit that when it comes to the depth and breadth of character interconnectedness that is The Wold-Newton Universe, I am nowhere near as well-versed as Win Scott Eckert, Denis Powers, Rick Lai and the folks who have spent countless years building upon the basis laid down by Philip Jose Farmer in books like Tarzan Alive, Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, The Other Log of Phileas Fogg, and such works. I like to think I'm a slightly above-average fan, though -- I enjoy picking out the little mentions here and there that indicate how a new piece of fiction might be linked to the classics (such as the veiled reference to Indiana Jones in the first Gabriel Hunt adventure; or the fact that Shannon Rutherford on LOST might actually be distantly related to Tarzan's mother).
As he says in his author's notes, Win Eckert got the chance to meet Mr. Farmer, and to dig through old files looking for pieces of interest for the Farmerphile fan magazine, and came across the unfinished manuscript for The Evil in Pemberley House. And Farmer agreed to let Eckert finish the manuscript and submit it for publication.
The Evil in Pemberley House is pure classic Farmer, connecting the daughter of Doc Savage to a curse that stretches back through the Darcy family of Austen's Pride and Prejudice and even further back from there. There are connections to Sherlock Holmes, Fu Manchu, The Shadow, The Avenger, and a variety of other pulp-and-earlier classic adventure tales, including of course Doc Savage himself. I don't think I picked up every single cross-literary name-drop, but I enjoyed the hell out of trying to.
Also in classic Farmer mode: every one of these characters has a libido -- an active libido. Farmer, after all, is credited with finally showing super-heroes as fully functioning beings, including bathroom breaks and sex .... lots of sex. By today's standards, the actual descriptions of sex are pretty tame. Eckert rightfully resisted the urge to "beef up" the sex scenes to match what today's readers might find shocking; and because of that, the scenes that are meant to be erotic actually are erotic -- the old "less is more" adage in full effect. (And, I should add, not every sex scene is meant to be erotic, especially the very first one).
The story is the classic Gothic literature setup: young woman is the sole remaining heir to a large, and possibly haunted, estate. Is the house really haunted, or are other people trying to scare her off? That is the crux of Farmer's story, as developed and completely by Eckert. The authors go out of their way to walk that line through the story that the creators of Savage and Holmes usually walked in their heroes' tales: there's always a plausible non-supernatural explanation for everything, but it is left up to the reader to decide in the end what was really happening.
In true collaborative form, you can't really tell where Farmer's original ms and Eckert's later work start and end, which I think is a testament to Eckert's ability as a writer. There are people with questionable motives all around the heroine, Patricia Wildman, and another fun part of the book is figuring who (if anyone) actually has her best interests at heart.
I highly recommend The Evil in Pemberley House to anyone who is a fan of gothic lit, pulp adventure, or a good old fashioned mystery. I'm very glad this was rescued from the depths of Farmer's files and that Subterranean Press agreed to publish it.