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Review: Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

Submitted by on August 31, 2012 – 4:00 am2 Comments

Author: P.D. James
Title: Death Comes to Pemberley
Release: December 2011
Reviewer: Noa
Source: Personal Library
Purchase: | Book Depository


It is 1803, six years since Elizabeth and Darcy embarked on their life together at Pemberley, Darcy’s magnificent estate 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.

As I mentioned in the On My Wishlist feature, I have had this book for quite some time but was quite concerned over the premise: Pride and Prejudice meets P.D. James mystery? It can be supreme perfection or, well, a disaster!

Also, I will admit that I read a few reviews and they were not promising – still, it was just sitting there being all judgmental, daring me to read it, so I did.

Death Comes to Pemberley begins six years after Pride and Prejudice comes to a close. Elizabeth and Darcy are happily married, she is setting in as the chatelaine of Pemberley, her mother doesn’t visit too often – perfect right?

Well, it’s the night before the annual autumn ball and Elizabeth seems to feel like something just isn’t right… Sadly, she isn’t wrong. Her sister Lydia shows up in hysterics (does she ever show up not in hysterics?) claiming that Whickham was murdered. Well, he isn’t dead, but Mr. Denny is. And the only suspect? Wickham.

Now everyone at Pemberley is involved – Darcy, Elizabeth, Georgina Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam, their guest Mr. Alveston, Mr. Bingley and Jane and the Pemberley staff. And Darcy, who usually serves as the Justice of the peace has no other option but to call in someone else to take control of the case – because of his history and relationship to Wickham.

Anyone who has read Pride and Prejudice knows – honor means everything to Darcy, so you can imagine what he has to deal with now – his past history with Wickham, how Wickham’s guilt could affect his family and most importantly – his relationship with Elizabeth. Meanwhile, Elizabeth needs to deal with once again being ‘tainted’ by a family member’s notoriety.

To some extent, we have two stories here – a murder mystery in 19th century England and a character driven novel that takes place at a country house. James really delves into both stories with her usual eye for detail.

I can understand why some people may not have loved Death Comes to Pemberley. They were either looking for a slightly different take on a Jane Austen sequel or they were looking for a PD James mystery with the historical twist. But this book is more than that.

Yes, it is a mystery set in 19th century England, and yes, it does focus on characters from a Jane Austen novel, but really it takes these characters and examines what would happen to them if they were put in a scenario that is completely outside their usual milieu. I loved every minute of it. Unlike many other sequels, James does not attempt to turn Darcy and Elizabeth into a lovey-dovey ‘nothing else matters’ couple. She is very ‘Austenian’ in describing their relationship.

She also stays well away from turning the mystery into a modern day mess. With no forensics, fingerprinting or even an actual police force – the focus had to be on recreating the events of the murder, taking apart each character’s story and finding the truth within the different versions of events.

Then there is Pemberley – which has a leading role in the story. James gives the estate almost human characteristics. It serves to set the mood throughout the story, and you can feel how it influences the household and visa versa.

Death Comes to Pemberley was a truly enjoyable read and is Testimony to PD James’ incredible talent and artistry.

Noa first fell in love with books when she discovered 100 acre wood and its inhabitants. To this day, the last pages of “The House at Pooh Corner” make her cry. In a good way. From“Calvin and Hobbes” to “The Iliad and the Odyssey” and lets not forget “Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes”. Biographies, mysteries, history books and romances all have a place on her bookshelves. Who needs furniture? This 29 year old singleton’s dream is to invent the zero-calorie chocolate. But until that day arrives, she tries to create sweet confections with whatever chocolate she can find. An MA in conflict studies (need a mediator?) means Noa loves a good debate, especially when she wins. If she were in charge, books would be free for everyone.
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