20 Jan 2013
You don't mess with Mr. Darcy - "Death Comes to Pemberley" by P. D. James
Any book that puts the word "Pemberley" in the title is setting itself up for scrutiny because there are a lot of girls out there (myself included) to who Pemberley is pretty much sacred. You don't mess with Mr. Darcy. Nobody puts Lizzy in a corner. So a crime fiction novel featuring Mr. and Mrs. Darcy better not pollute the shades of Pemberley as Lady Catherine de Bourgh would say.
"Death Comes to Pemberley" by P. D. James has a lot going for it. It is written by a capable author with a long career and plenty of successful novels to her name and it is true to the style and ways of Jane Austen.
The plot is very different, however, from the Jane Austen novels as it is resolutely a crime fiction novel. It is the night before a big ball at Pemberley and the Darcys and their closest friends are enjoying a peaceful night before the partying when a carriage comes hurrying towards the house at such a great speed that it almost topples over. It stops in front of the house and out of the carriage comes a hysterical, screaming Lydia, Mrs. Darcy's fateful younger sister who ran off with the scoundrel Wickham.
A murder has been committed in the forest next to Pemberley and all evidence points to Wickham being the murderer. To the proud Mr. Darcy this is a terribly difficult situation - by marriage, he is Wickham's brother and he has to put all of his hatred of the man to the side and do his best to keep him from the gallows.
The strength of this book is the writing and the low-key plot line which keeps it as close as possible to Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" but at the same time this somehow is also the weakness. Because it stays very close to the original, it doesn't really take anything further. There is no elaborating on the relationship between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, between Jane and Mr. Bingley, between Elizabeth and Jane and their less fortunate sisters, so reading it as a sequel to "Pride and Prejudice" doesn't work.
For me, any book that features the beloved characters from that novel have to put the focus on them and their stories and this one doesn't, it is all about the whodunnit and the trial. Verdict from me is that as a historical crime, it works really well but as a part of the "Pride and Prejudice" fanfiction, it's no good.