I was initially afraid of reading P. D. James’ Death Comes to Pemberley. After all, it combines the talents of one of my favourite crime writers with characters from one of my favourite books of all time. There’s a lot of scope for disappointment there.
After a brief recap of the events of Pride and Prejudice, told from the point of view of the Meryton gossips, and a whirlwind tour of the lives of the Bennett sisters in the following six years, we find Elizabeth Darcy making the final preparations for the annual ‘Lady Anne’s Ball’ in memory of Mr Darcy’s late mother. As the day progresses, Colonel Fitzwilliam requests an audience with Lizzy, and Jane Bingley and her husband arrive with a lawyer friend who has been frequently visiting them from London. After a quiet family dinner, Colonel Fitzwilliam goes out for a horse ride, and Georgiana is the first to go to bed, but the others are prevented from following her upstairs by the sound of a carriage speeding up the driveway. Inside it is Lydia Wickham, screaming that she is sure her husband has been murdered. Immediately a search is arranged, and a body is found in the woods, but it is not Wickham who is dead.
I found this to be a very light and entertaining read, in spite of the dark subject matter. I was pleased with the way that James kept to the spirit of the original, and she dealt with the characters in much the same way as Austen did. What was not quite so good was the plot. Perhaps it’s just because I’ve read far too many murder mysteries, but some of the clues might as well have had neon signs pointing to them, they were that obvious. Admittedly I didn’t put all the pieces together in exactly the right order, but I had enough of them in place that I wasn’t all that surprised by the solution.
I have read some very disappointing Austen fan-fiction pieces over the years, but this is one I would actually recommend. It is perhaps concerned more with legal procedures than the ‘manners’ and ‘money’ that fans of the original Austen novels would be used to, but nevertheless it has a lot of charm, and is worth a look.