Philip José Farmer and Win Scott Eckert, The Evil in Pemberley House (Subterranean Press, 2009)

The Evil in Pemberley House is a story set in Philip José Farmer's "Wold Newton Universe," a term actually coined by Win Scott Eckert in 1997. For those whose scholarship in pulp literature is rusty, in this universe, all the pulp heroes you can think of, from both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries -- Doc Savage, Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Sexton Blake, Phileas Fogg, Captain Nemo, and many, many others -- not only know each other, but their descendants have somehow all wound up as relatives.

Patricia Wildman has lost her parents, whose private plane disappeared on a flight over the Arctic. Then her new husband is killed by a patient at the clinic founded by her father, the renowned adventurer and doctor, James Wildman. Shortly thereafter, she receives a letter from a solicitor in London, Mr. Newell, who informs her that she is the heir to the venerable estate of Pemberley House and the title Baroness of Lambton. The other titles, including Duchess of Greystoke, would lapse, although the solicitor would be happy to begin proceedings to resurrect them. Patricia has nothing left in America, and leaves for England to meet her great-grandmother, the Dowager Duchess, and her cousins Richard and Carla Deguy, who cannot inherit because they are the children of the Dowager's adopted son.

It's Richard who, when he picks her up at the train station, informs her of the "curse" on the direct descendants of the founder of the line, Bess D'Arcy. Bess was murdered by her fourth husband and her ghost appears to her descendants for three nights on the anniversary of her death. Richard also tries to get into Patricia's pants, as does Carla when they meet. In fact, pretty much everyone tries to get into Patricia's pants, except for the Dowager, who simply wants her to go away. In fact, the only character of any substance who shows some restraint (Patricia is a very attractive woman) is Parker, the groundskeeper.

Needless to say, nothing is as it seems, no one is what they profess to be, there are plots within plots, the ghost does show up, but Patricia has much more to worry about than a ghost who simply wants love.

Remember that Farmer is the man who brought sex into science fiction, big time, and he's not about to let up here. Patricia once inadvertently witnessed her parents making love before the fire, and since then has been fixated on her father -- particularly his "huge, dark member." She's making some headway in replacing that image with that of her husband when he is killed, but she certainly seems to be fixated on Daddy, as well as the bulges in men's pants. (And it does seem that all the men in this story are very well equipped to be subjects of erotic fantasy.) Patricia does recognize that she has a problem, at least, although it seems to her that everyone at Pemberley is fixated on sex. As it happens, though, Patricia's first sexual experience is as the victim of a lesbian rape when she is abducted on the approach to Pemberley. One big plus here: Patricia is hardly your typical helpless female. Once she frees herself of the restraints being used to hold her down, she makes short work of her captors, who flee into the night and on every subsequent appearance are still sporting bruises. The story progresses this way -- although the actual sexual encounters are few -- to a bloody and very satisfying finale.

Farmer's also notable for his riffs on other authors' characters, particularly Tarzan. (He wrote a biography of Tarzan as well as one of Doc Savage, after all.) Eckert has the distinction of having taken Farmer's creation and expanded and refined it into an all-encompassing milieu. The references here are multitudinous -- Tarzan, who seems to be somewhat of a paterfamilias, Holmes (one of Patricia's father's teachers, as it happens), Doc Savage (Patricia's father, in fact), Phileas Fogg shows up, as does Sexton Blake as the main character in a story that Patricia reads -- as story that involves, in fact, the Dowager, Patricia's father, and the ghost -- and I'm sure there are others I've missed. (And, given the fact that Patricia, if she accepts the inheritance, is a titled lady and Parker a commoner, the way things work out we also have a reference to D. H. Lawrence.)

This one is fun -- a good, tight story, enough psychology to keep it interesting, villains galore, characters with eccentricities that only the English can manage gracefully, a rich context, and lots of sex.

And now I have to go back and catch up on my pulp fiction.

[Robert M. Tilendis]

Philip José Farmer's official home page is here. Win Scott Eckert's site is here. Subterranean Press is still here.