Originally posted Tuesday, November 3, 2009 4:01:59 PM
In 1997, Win Eckert started The Wold Newton Universe Crossover Chronology, a website expanding on Philip Jose Farmer’s pseudo-biographies Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life. Over the years, Eckert kept expanding the concept and in 2005 edited Myths for the Modern Age, a collection of several of Farmer’s unpublished Wold Newton Articles and new articles by various Wold Newton Scholars (including me). That same year, Win was able to meet Phil and during a search through Phil’s archive uncovered an unfinished manuscript and complete outline for The Evil in Pemberley House. Win sought permission from the Farmers and completed the manuscript. Sadly, Philip Jose Farmer passed away before the book was published.
The book tells the story of Patricia Wildman, the daughter of Doc Wildman, who after the death of her parents and husband discovered that she was to inherit an estate in England decides to travel there to start a new life away from all the tragedy. Instead of the happily ever after that she was hoping for Patricia discovers that she has stumbled into a supernatural mystery with the discovery of a family curse. Of course, being Farmer and Eckert the book is littered with Wold Newton references
My best comparison for this book is the first Austin Powers movie – not that Evil in Pemberley House is a funny book. The first Austin Powers movie worked as a comedy even if you weren’t aware of the various 60s spy references dropped (James Bond, the Avengers, Derek Flint, etc) but an awareness of those sources enriches your viewing of the movie. Similarly, The Evil in Pemberley House also works as a Gothic novel even if the reader has no awareness of the rest of the Wold Newton Cycle.
Many gothics take the Scooby Doo route and show the man in the mask muttering “I’d have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for that meddling heiress/governess” but Farmer and Eckert wisely leave the question open, the ghost that visits Patricia may be a relative in disguise hoping to scare off the heiress or might be the real ghost.
Patricia is a great character in her own right, as I said before she is the daughter of Doc Wildman (obviously Doc Savage) and as such is no shrieking, fainting damsel in distress. The novel was conceived and set in the 1970s and whilst Patricia might not get as much sex as her contemporaries The Baroness, The Sexecutioner and The Lady from LUST, Patricia is no prude. The sex in the novel is important to the plot.
The novel finishes in such a way that Patricia has the scope for a series of her own adventures and I sincerely hope that Eckert continues the adventures of Patricia.
Win once told me that Farmer’s manuscript stopped in mid-sentence, well I looked carefully but I can’t find the sentence where Win took over. In fact, there is nowhere in the novel that jars and tips the reader off that there are two hands at work here.
The Evil in Pemberley House was published by Subterranean Press and I would be remiss to fail to mention the cover art by Glen Orbik. Orbik’s work on the Gabriel Hunt series and several of the Hard Case Crime books (my favourite is Money Shot) brought him to my attention and he is a perfect choice for the cover art which evokes the gothic novel covers and still brings Patricia to life as a strong capable sexy heroine.
Subterranean brought Evil in Pemberley House in a standard and limited edition format. The standard is just the novel and the limited edition is a numbered and signed copy of the novel and a limited chapbook. The chapbook might be best thought of as like the second disk of special features in a special edition DVD. The cover of the novel is the Wildman Coat of Arms drawn by Keith Howell based on the notes of Philip Jose Farmer. The first article in the chapbook is a description of the coat of arms with reproduction of four pages of handwritten notes and sketches by Farmer.
Next the chapbook reprints Farmer’s outline, which was especially interesting to me as I am learning to outline myself. I would advise that the reader read the novel first so as to not spoil the story.
Next is a chronology of events described in the novel. The final special feature is “Excessively Diverted or Coming to Pemberley House” when Farmer started this novel there was no Wold Newton speculation and it was easy for him to make Patricia the sole heir. Since that time, there have been numerous speculations and original stories that have added other potential heirs to Pemberley House, Eckert examines each of these potential claimants shows how and why they were out of contention.
These special features added an extra layer of enjoyment to my reading of this novel.