Death Comes to Pemberley
by P.D. James
Review by Gayle Surrette
Knopf Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780307959850
Date: 06 December 2011 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
We drop in on Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy six years after the events of Pride and Prejudice. It's October 1803, Pemberley is being readied for Lady Anne's ball. Everyone is working long hours to make sure everything is ready for when the guests begin arriving the next day. Suddenly, there's a carriage nearly out-of-control heading for the house. Lydia Wickham has arrived, uninvited and hysterical, screaming that her husband has been killed in the woods. Jane Bingley and Elizabeth immediately step in to assist Lydia and calm her down. Darcy begins to organize and plan a search and rescue -- feeling ambivalent about whether finding Wickham dead would be a good or bad thing.
I've read a number of mysteries taking place after Pride and Prejudice where Elizabeth and Darcy end up solving a crime that occurs while they are away from Pemberley. As with most of these novels, the author begins with a short history of what's happened in Elizabeth and Darcy's lives since their wedding, setting the story within the framework of what has happened to all the major and minor characters since the double wedding of Elizabeth and Darcy and Jane and Bingley. P.D. James does a wonderful job of bring the reader up to date with a short narrative that brings either Austen readers or non-Austen readers up to date with the cast of characters so that the story can move on.
James does a wonderful job keeping the rhythm and tone of Austen while spinning out a story in six books and an epilogue. Tensions build as the story moves forward as first they look for the men lost in the woods of Pemberley and later get involved in the inquest and trial. Wrapped about the mystery are the changing relationships between some of the main characters based on their changed or changing circumstances and growth over the years.
This is not an edge of the seat sort of mystery. It's one of those that pulls you in and acquaints you with the characters, how they feel about what's happening around them. It builds slowly and steadily towards the ending where the identity of the killer is revealed. There's a special joy in a story that uses well-known characters and put them in a situation that makes them step outside their comfort zones but doesn't play with the moral core or identity of the characters in order to move the plot along. However, Darcy and Elizabeth are both far more introspective here -- often thinking about the might-have-beens in their lives. Also, unlike Austen, James tells parts of the story from Darcy's perspective when Elizabeth isn't around. She also manages to pull in some references to Austen's other works which is a nice surprise to fans of Austen's books.
An excellent mystery and an excellent addition the list of books that continue the story of Pride and Prejudice beyond the pages of Austen's work.