Death Comes to Pemberley
I’m not sure what it is about the world of Elizabeth Darcy that I derive such comfort from, but James did a wonderful job of tapping into that. This murder mystery harkened back to Agatha Christie in all of the best ways. Sure, there was a murder, but it was the intrigue that made the pages turn for me. This story rose above the usual who-done-it, by incorporating characters that we all already know and love. The fact that Wickham is the person suspected of murder makes the story that much more mysterious because we already know that Wickham isn’t exactly the most ethical person in the world. The ambiguity of his character adds a layer of complexity that would otherwise be lacking if this story were told with a different set of characters.
A rare meeting of literary genius: P. D. James, long among the most admired mystery writers of our time, draws the characters of Jane Austen’s beloved novel Pride and Prejudice into a tale of murder and emotional mayhem.
It is 1803, six years since Elizabeth and Darcy embarked on their life together at Pemberley, Darcy’s magnificent estate. Their peaceful, orderly world seems almost unassailable. Elizabeth has found her footing as the chatelaine of the great house. They have two fine sons, Fitzwilliam and Charles. Elizabeth’s sister Jane and her husband, Bingley, live nearby; her father visits often; there is optimistic talk about the prospects of marriage for Darcy’s sister Georgiana. And preparations are under way for their much-anticipated annual autumn ball.
Then, on the eve of the ball, the patrician idyll is shattered. A coach careens up the drive carrying Lydia, Elizabeth’s disgraced sister, who with her husband, the very dubious Wickham, has been banned from Pemberley. She stumbles out of the carriage, hysterical, shrieking that Wickham has been murdered. With shocking suddenness, Pemberley is plunged into a frightening mystery.
The clues James laid throughout the book are downright brilliant. I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say this: I truly didn’t see that ending coming. I don’t want to say anymore about this because I don’t want to ruin it for you.
The one thing I absolutely love about this book is the insight into Elizabeth and Darcy’s life post-wedding. I was joyous to find that Jane and Bingley had moved to be closer to them, because in an ideal Jane Austen world, Elizabeth and Jane shouldn’t have to be very far away. Lydia is still the same impetuous, indecorous, disaster of a human who doesn’t understand anything about civilized society, which makes it ever so satisfying to loath her. But it’s Darcy and Elizabeth who are the most gratifying part of the story. The fact that Elizabeth was immediately accepted by the people who work at Pemberley was delightful to read. I needed her to have her happily ever after because it’s kind of rare for the super clever girl to get it. James wrought this magnificently.
There’s a fair bit of insight into Darcy in this story as well and I have to say, I enjoyed every minute of it. To know that he experiences self-doubt and that he too has ghosts of worry that plague him in the night was refreshing. The Darcy in Pride and Prejudice is such an upstanding man that you never even think that he could have even a moment of doubt, but this Darcy is more human, which only served to increase my affection for the character.
In the end, the murder mystery portion of the book is well wrought, if sometimes a little slow, but the pace is completely nullified by the fact that even if it’s slow, you’re reading Darcy or Bingley being slow.
As a random closing sidenote, I didn’t realize that James is 91 until I finished the book. I can only hope that I’m still writing at that age. To Ms. James, I say, thank you for the stories, you have my admiration.
4 ink bottles.