I finished Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy omnibus just before I left for California. It consists of two collections of short stories (Murder and Magic and Lord Darcy Investigates, plus the novel, Too Many Magicians. The high concept behind this alternate history series is that Richard the Lionheart survived his arrow wound in 1199, instead taking it as a sign that it was time to settle down and become the best ruler of England and France ever. To this day (the late twentieth century) Plantagenets hold the throne of the Anglo-French Empire, and the nobility still live in castles. Technology is about that of the late Victorian era, i.e., trains and telephones, in part because magic exists, and the laws by which it operates were worked out in mathematical detail some centuries ago. It's an interesting idea. I don't buy any of the alternate history, mind you, but it's interesting speculation.
The short story collections are okay, but suffer from the fact that Garrett has to repeat the origins of this universe along with showing how magic works in every one. Lord Darcy is the chief criminal investigator for Richard, Duke of Normandy. In the early stories, he's very Sherlockian in both methods and demeanor. He's assisted by Master Forensic Sorcerer Sean O'Lochlainn, who explains the way magic works in great detail in every story. The stories are often reminiscent of other mysteries. For example, "The Napoli Express" is a takeoff on Murder on the Orient Express, and "The Ipswich Phial" reminds one of Have His Carcase, along with its pun on The Ipcress File. Another problem (at least for me) that develops as the series proceeds is that Garrett relies more and more on Polish Secret Service (the Polish Empire is the chief rival to the Anglo-French in world affairs) to be his villains, so Darcy becomes more and more a spy chaser as we go along.
That being said, the novel, Too Many Magicians, is excellent. Again Garrett borrows other peoples' characters and and situations. A master sorcerer is found dead in a locked hotel room at a magicians' convention, and Darcy must team up with his cousin, the Marquis of London, the chief investigator for the King. De London is a noted herbalist and gourmand who rarely leaves his London townhouse, and is put off by flummery. His assistant is Lord Bontriomphe (good win, get it?), whose speech patterns, unlike anyone else's in the book, are those of a midwesterner transplanted to the west side of Manhattan. There are other such borrowings. The Grand Master sorcerer, a tall, thin man with a prominent nose, is called Sir Lyon Gandolphus Grey, while one of the minor characters is Neapoler Einzig. Meanwhile, Darcy's character gets a much needed makeover. Now he's much more Peter Wimsey than Sherlock Holmes. There's even a Dowager Duchess on hand, although she's a stand-in for Harriet Vane, not the DD of Denver. The whole thing is great fun, and the mystery is well presented. Recommended.
On the plane out I started Pratchett's Guards! Guards!, another Vimes book, the one in which he meets Sybil. It's quite a bit sillier that the later books I've read. It also seemed to take awhile to get up to speed, although that may also be the result of my having only four hours of sleep before I started reading it. Finished it during the F2F, and I enjoyed it.
Next up was a reread of The Trouble Twisters, a collection of Poul Anderson's early stories about David Falkayn, Nicholas van Rijn's chief scout and troubleshooter. I'd forgotten how much of a horndog Falkayn was. Fun stuff.
Last night I started Foul Ball, Jim Bouton's tale of his crusade to save an old ballpark in Pittsfield, MA, from the wreckers ball.