I’m quite a big Jane Austen fan, and as has been very well documented, I’m a big mystery stories fan. It’s not really that much of a surprise then that when it was announced that P.D. James was writing a murder mystery sequel to Pride and Prejudice, I was rather excited. Through various distractions though, I haven’t actually been able to sit down and read ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’ until quite recently (I know, it was published in 2011 – what can I say, I’m easily distracted :p ).
Hopefully without giving too much away, Death Comes to Pemberley is set six years after Elizabeth and Darcy get married at the end of P&P. They are happily established at Pemberley along with Darcy’s sister Georgiana. Then, on the Eve of the Lady Anne Ball, Lizzie’s sister, Lydia arrives is great distress claiming that someone has murdered her beloved Wickham. Darcy organises a search of the estate’s woodlands, a body is indeed found and the rest of the story surrounds the progress and eventual resolving of the case.
To be blunt, this book isn’t what I thought it would be. I had convinced myself somehow that it would show Elizabeth trying to solve the mystery, probably with Darcy’s disapproval at the start and then assistance towards the end. In reality though, Death Comes to Pemberley may be a mystery story but it’s not a detective story. There is no one actively trying to gather clues and work out what happened, the reader just gets to observe the day to day goings on as the case unfolds and then everything just happens to sort itself out at the end. It’s easy to feel like you spend the entire book waiting for it to get going and then suddenly it’s over. I’m not saying it’s boring, but I could understand why you would be disappointed with the story if you didn’t know exactly what you were getting yourself into before you started.
On the other hand, the gentle flow of the plot does have an Austen-esk feel to it. I wouldn’t say that you will suddenly feel like you are reading a long lost manuscript but P.D James has done well to capture the feel of the novels and I think the book does make a fitting tribute to someone that so many people love so much. The characters feel familiar and there was great continuity between P&P and DCTP. To some extent, it does feel like when you come face to face with Darcy, Jane, Lydia and Wickham, you are just picking up where you left off.
I would say though that Elizabeth herself didn’t feel quite as a strong a personality as she was in P&P. She didn’t seem to speak her mind as much and certainly didn’t seem to laugh or make witty remarks as much. True, with a death occurring at her home, she probably wasn’t really in the mood to be entertaining but it would have been nice to see a bit more of her spark. It would also have been nice to see some more interaction between her and Darcy. Considering how in P&P they don’t really get together until right at the end of the story, I was looking forward to seeing them together and supporting each other through this horrible event but they were hardly ever in the same room! I know this is probably fairly historically accurate of how relationships were in the regency period but I just wanted them to say more than a couple of sentences to each other at any one time!
Overall, I would have to say that if you are looking for Jane Austen reincarnated or a gripping suspenseful murder mystery, this book isn’t for you. I would recommend it however, if you were looking for something gentle and familiar to read on holiday or a cold rainy afternoon. I just think that it’s important you know exactly what sort of story this is before you start to avoid disappointment. I would happily read it again now that I know what to expect but more as a tribute to the original story than as a wonder in it’s own right. Because of this, I’m going to give Death Comes to Pemberley 2/5 Lizzies and Darcys