Death Comes to Pemberley
By P.D. James
In a Pride and Prejudice sequel, Ms. James creates an Austen-esque murder mystery. One dark and stormy night (how’s that for cliche?), a carriage carrying Mr. and Mrs. George Wickham and their friend Captain Denny travels through the Pemberley woods. After an argument, Captain Denny orders the carriage to stop and storms off into the darkness, followed by a drunken Wickham. Shots ring out, Lydia (Bennet) Wickham hysterically hollers for the carriage to take her to the house, and the search party from Pemberley finds a distressed Wickham leaning over Denny’s body. The ensuing action follows Darcy through the investigation, inquest, and trial of his childhood friend-turned-mortal enemy/brother-in-law.
- Ms. James uses one of the most beloved novels as the background for her mystery. She does an incredible job of writing in Austen’s voice. I particularly love the first line: “it was generally agreed by the female residents of Meryton that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet of Longbourn had been fortunate in the disposal in marriage of four of their five daughters” (p. 3), which echoes the first line in P&P.
- For the most part, you don’t need to read/understand P&P to be able to follow the storyline. Ms. James gives a pretty good summary of the main events in the Prologue of this book. While some of the finer points may be lost on someone who hasn’t read the original, the characters are fairly well developed independently of Austen’s novel.
- The characters as Ms. James draws them remain consistent with the original Austen characters. Lydia is still flighty and selfish, Jane and Darcy are madly in love and perfectly compatible, and Mr. Bennet is the calm in the storm. Furthermore, Ms. James takes advantage of the Wickham as the “bad guy” in P&P and extends that reputation. He’s even more despicable in James’s novel. Actually, I thought that Wickham was going to be the murder victim instead of the murder suspect, and I was slightly disappointed when he remained alive. But I think it was brilliant on James’s part to remind readers that Darcy’s dislike of Wickham is more than justified.
- Little nods to Austen make me smile: “If this were fiction, could even the most brilliant novelist contrive to make credible so short a period in which pride had been subdued and prejudice overcome?” (p. 47)
What Doesn’t Work:
- (Don’t hate me for saying this!) Ms. James does such a great job at writing in Austen’s voice that this book put me to sleep as well as any original Austen novel! I know it’s practically blasphemous for me, an English major, to say this, but Austen is not my favorite author. I love her stories, and I do enjoy reading them (and she is HILARIOUS), but her books are not those I pick up when I need a fun read.
- I had a hard time remembering some of the characters James introduced, specifically Ms. Younge, who appears fairly late in the story, and she is a character I didn’t remember from P&P. I had to go back and figure out who she was and why she was important. I think, however, this mostly had to do with the fact that it took me so long to read this book, and also that it’s been a while since I read P&P. Ms. James’s explanation of Ms. Younge’s and Wickham’s relationship does
- The majority of the action focuses on Darcy, and I would have preferred to hear a little more from Elizabeth, but I suppose you get enough of that from P&P.
I enjoyed reading a sequel (of sorts) to P&P. Who wouldn’t want to know what happened with Elizabeth and Darcy? I haven’t read any others of the myriad spin offs, though, so I can’t compare James’s ideas with any others. In James’s estimation, Darcy is the epitome of a gentleman, but I found that Elizabeth is less likeable and a little more shallow than Austen’s heroine.
I would recommend this book to lovers of Jane Austen and period dramas. It would make a pretty good book club read too since it draws so much on P&P. I am going to put another P.D. James book on my to-read list because I am interested to see what her voice sounds like when she is not imitating Austen.
Mrs. Ethridge’s Report Card:
My Rating: B-
- Fairly entertaining plot
- Excellent use of voice makes up for other lackluster issues
Clean Factor: A+
- No objectionable material or words
- I could see fairly lively discussion, specifically about the original vs spin-off