Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James
The year is 1803, and Darcy and Elizabeth have been married for six years. There are now two handsome and healthy sons in the nursery, Elizabeth’s beloved sister Jane and her husband Bingley live nearby and the orderly world of Pemberley seems unassailable. But all this is threatened when, on the eve of the annual autumn ball, the guests are preparing to retire for the night when a chaise appears, rocking down the path from Pemberley’s wild woodland. As it pulls up, Lydia Wickham – Elizabeth’s younger, unreliable sister – stumbles out screaming that her husband has been murdered.
As a staunch Austenite, any Austen adaptation or rewriting is generally avoided. However, I’d heard from several of my friends and read reviews from various sources (including NPR) that I became incredibly curious and bought it for my Nook.
I do not regret it!
The prologue sums up Pride & Prejudice for any reader who has not read Austen. This certainly helped the story and set the tone for the writing – James brilliantly wrote this novel sounding like Austen wrote it herself! The recap of the novel linked the classic to this murder mystery in such a way that the reader could view this novel in two ways: as an extent of P&P or a novel with similar character names but essentially a stand-alone piece. James excellently mimicked Austen so well that the known characters resembled their Austen counterparts. It was also fun to see a brief mentioning of an “Anne” who was in a “happy marriage with a naval captain” (Persuasion), and later of a “Mr. and Mrs. Knightley of Donwell Abbey…a friend of Mrs. Martin” (Emma). She also included an entirely new cast of characters, which helps to separate this murder mystery from P&P.
Any “Downton Abbey” fan could find pleasure in this, as well. The new characters included servants, their backgrounds and points of view, lawyers, witnesses, and villagers. Austenites know the elite, but rarely ever hear about or see the “downstairs” group of people. As I’ve said several times already, this aids the novel: one can read it without thinking of James “polluting the shades of Pemberley” with her adaptation.
In terms of the mystery, I was kept on my toes. Two characters were on my mind up until the trial as suspects, but when the truth was revealed, I’ll admit I was shocked! Yet evidence pointed directly to this character. And, of course, any and all loopholes were tied after the trial as characters relieved their heavy burdens on Darcy and Elizabeth.
Well-written, historically accurate, mimicked Austen rather well, and could be read separate from or with Pride & Prejudice.
Rating: ★★★★.5 of 5