The novel begins with a recap of the original for anyone who hasn’t read Pride and Prejudice and describes what has happened in the intervening six years or so.
Then, on a dark and stormy night—I kid you not—Captain Denny is found murdered, with Wickham hunched over the body.
Talking heads scenes follow, typical of P.D. James’s murder mysteries, where the magistrates converse, witnesses testify at the inquest, characters discuss motives amongst themselves, and the crime is brought to trial.
What modern readers will love perhaps, is that P.D. James writes with more visual and sensual detail than Jane Austen, shedding light on daily life in the time period. Purists may object that Austen doesn’t objectively describe the physical environment of her characters.
Another point of debate is the visibility of the servant class. Purists will say that in P & P, the servants are practically invisible. If we see them at all, they are “silent-on-camera”, except Darcy’s housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds, whose words of praise of her master are instrumental in uprooting Elizabeth’s prejudice against him. In Death Comes to Pemberley, we have a wider view of society. The servants are crucial to the story. I’ll say no more…
My only quibble is that the novel ends with a very long monologue of Darcy explaining his actions. First of all, I found it unconvincing. I don’t think he would have waited years and years into his marriage to air all this to Elizabeth. What did they talk about in their many long walks around Longbourn at the end of P & P anyway? Second, I found it unnecessary. Darcy already explained himself in P & P. Why does he keep taking the blame for Wickham’s actions? Somehow this section escaped the editor’s red pen.
On the other hand, the future lives P.D. James designed for Bingley & Jane, Darcy & Elizabeth, Mary Bennett, Kitty Bennett, and even Lady Catherine are totally believable. There’s even redemption for Wickham and Lydia.
Oh, and P. D. James slyly works in characters from other Austen novels, though they stay off-stage. Too clever.
If you love a good police investigation and want more of your favourite Austen characters, this is definitely a well-crafted, well-written story, with much more period detail than the original. Let me know what you think of it!
And has anyone seen the 2013 Masterpiece Theatre mini-series?
In order to slow down my frenetic book-eating, I'm writing reviews of the books I read to better digest them. Bon appétit!