Death Comes to Pemberley
By P.D. James
Paperback, 291 pages
Elizabeth and Darcy, happily married for six years and parents to two boys, are having their annual ball. The night before the ball, Lydia appears unexpectedly, frantically screaming that her husband has been murdered in the woods of the Pemberley estate. An investigation is launched and the Darcys and their family are pulled into a murder trial that could affect the rest of their lives.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, as I’ve read some disappointing sequels and reimaginings of Pride and Prejudice, but from the start I found myself pleasantly surprised by the tone of characters. James has done an excellent job keeping the narrative voice true to the original and the characters behaved as I think they would have should Austen have decided to pursue this genre. I expected a murder mystery involving the Darcy family would have been a bit hokey, but I was interested in the story and constantly trying to guess who the murderer was.
James sets the scene by revisiting some of the events from the original novel and detailing how Elizabeth and Darcy have children now and how they’ve fared since their marriage. There’s also some speculation from the neighborhood as to why Elizabeth and Darcy married and this felt like a natural follow up to the end of the original. James also has Mary happily married and though she’s really not mentioned beyond that in the book, it was nice to see her settled rather than turned into an even more obnoxious character, as is common in other renditions of Pride and Prejudice. As usual, I can’t stand Lydia or Wickham and James managed to make me dislike the couple even more throughout the events in her book.
Lady Catherine even makes a small appearance and has a fantastic little monologue on life and death which made me chuckle:
“The de Bourghs have never gone in for prolonged dying. People should make up their minds whether to live or to die and do one or the other with the least inconvenience to others.”
There’s even a nod to characters from Persuasion and Emma, implying they run in some of the same social circles as the Darcys.
The mystery turned out to be more complex than I expected and my only real complaint with this book is with the latter portion where all is revealed. A murder trial is held and of course the witnesses are asked to speak and in doing so they repeat a lot of what has already been revealed to the reader. After the trial, even more details are revealed and due to the conversational nature of how everything took place, it turned into a massive infodump. The book really slowed down and was dull for me, despite the interesting details being discussed. I don’t think there was any other way the story could have wrapped up other than everyone talking about what happened, but it was tough to get through.
If you’re an Austen fan and the idea of her characters being involved in a murder trial sounds interesting, I think you should give this book a chance. It didn’t disappoint me and if James has any other Austen-inspired work I’d certainly read it.