A series of alternate-history-detective stories which follow an aristocratic investigator and his mage assistant around as they solve high crimes. While the stories aren't bad per se, they really aren't that good either. They also have the misfortune of running up against both my rudimentary social justice instincts and the thematically similar, but far more skillfully done Le Carre stories I've been reading recently. I read the first quarter of the stories (~150 pages) and then stopped.
So, a bit more background. The alternate history is one in which both religion and magic have some efficacy, and have largely supplanted science in the progress of civilization. Monarchs and the Catholic church still rule the great nations of Europe, and in the 1950's the feudal/aristocratic system is still firmly in place. There has been some development (preservation spells in place of refrigerators, basic telegraphs, primitive guns), but there are still castles, sailed ships, horses, swords, etc. Our investigator, Lord Darcy, is called in on a number of cases where a member of royalty has gone missing or been found murdered. He then performs interviews, gathers clues, has his mage assistant perform metaphysical CSI work, and then Lord Darcy unravels the plot/intrigue to the gathered nobles.
Now, the problems. One is simply that the setting rubbed me wrong. I feel like a 1950's where the feudal system is still in place is on the same order of badness as a 1950's where the Nazi's had won WWII. An ongoing feudal system necessarily means hundreds of millions of additional lives that have been blighted by lack of freedom, opportunity, and resources. The author though, he seems to think that the setting is perfectly fine? The royals are usually lean, fit, intelligent and upright, the commoners are happy in their place, the priests are pious and holy, etc. It's like the author just ignored all of recent and ancient history, and said "screw it, monarchies are awesome". And for my part, I was going "arrghhh" each time a peasant touched his forelock to the protagonist. Usually settings don't bother me like this, but the combination of the modern day timeline, the terrible world, and the author's ok-ness with that terrible world set me off. Now, one could argue that the Lord Darcy universe is actually quite good, since it appears to have a benevolent God (as opposed to our own Lovecraftian universe). But that just pushes the problem back a step, from why would the author create such a terrible world to why would his deity create such a terrible world.
The second problem is that I've recently read a lot of Le Carre, which has superficially similar stories of mystery, spying, and intrigue. The difference is that Le Carre's novels have beautiful psychological portraits, and a wonderful depth and texture and realism to them. Taken together, they make these sorts of stories (e.g. Sherlock Holmes with some monarchy and magic tacked on) seem very shallow and shoddy by comparison.