P.D. James takes readers back into the world of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice six years after their marriage. It's evident that James admires Austen's story, and knows it well. Unfortunately, she can retell their story, and create a slight mystery, but she fails to capture the essence of Elizabeth and Darcy in Death Comes to Pemberley.
It’s 1803, the day before Lady Anne’s ball at Pemberley, named after Darcy’s mother. Darcy and Elizabeth have two sons, and have settled in comfortably with their life. Elizabeth is only troubled by the future of Darcy’s sister, Georgiana. Will she marry Darcy’s long-time friend, Colonel Fitzwilliam, or a lawyer acquaintance of the Bingley’s, Henry Alveston? Elizabeth is a little concerned that Darcy’s friendship will push Georgiana into the wrong relationship.
The evening before the ball, the guests at Pemberley have settled in when a coach tears into the estate bearing Elizabeth’s younger sister, Lydia Wickham, who tumbles out howling that her husband had been murdered. It’s a claim that sends Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Alveston into the northern woodland, looking for two men, one a possible killer. Once again, the Wickhams have brought trouble to the world of Elizabeth and Darcy.
James did an excellent job summarizing Pride and Prejudice in the prologue, and a couple other times in the course of the book. I’m no expert on Austen’s book, but I never saw the personalities that readers loved. Elizabeth and Darcy lacked life and spirit in this book. In fact, Darcy came across as spineless, allowing Colonel Fitzwilliam to dictate all the actions in the hunt for Wickham, and the following events. Elizabeth had no spirit. She seemed to be a dutiful, appropriate wife, with little to recommend her as an interesting character.
The mystery itself also seemed to be missing. Who was the killer? Although there was an investigation and subsequent trial, the actual unraveling of the mystery was a disappointment.
The combination of P.D. James and Austen’s masterpiece should have been a delight. Death Comes to Pemberley was not exceptional, neither as a follow-up to Pride and Prejudice nor as a mystery.
Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James. Faber and Faber. ©2011. ISBN 9780571283576 (hardcover), 310p.
NOTE: I read the British edition of this book. The American edition is from Knopf. ISBN 9780307959850.
FTC Full Disclosure – I bought my copy of the book