This is the first P.D. James book I’ve read, probably because I’m not a big fan of crime novels, but I was drawn in by it’s the historical time period. Moreover, I was doubly intrigued upon realizing Ms. James had befriended the characters of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and given them new life. One certainly needn’t have read P&P to follow Death Comes to Pemberley, though I feel it pleasantly enhanced the experience for me. I found myself admiring James’ seamless crafting anew of Elizabeth and Darcy’s early 19th-century world. She seems to pick up the story as easily as one retrieves a dropped knitting stitch and then carries on flawlessly, but with the added spice of a murder mystery.
It seems difficult enough to take on another author’s story and weave a seamless story fabric, but to take on the revered Jane Austen’s characters must have given even Baroness James the willies. I read P&P and this book back to back and was awed by the author’s artistry capturing the atmosphere of Austen’s world quite faithfully. She transported me right back to the 19th-century English countryside, with her painstaking research of this time period abundantly evident. I also enjoyed being re-introduced to familiar friends, and learning more about them. For instance, James explores Darcy’s childhood in the story, explaining the origins of his taciturn demeanor. Additionally, she fleshes out the stories of secondary characters, like Darcy’s sister Giorgiana. Unfortunately, some of the more comical characters went missing, such as Elizabeth’s mother and the self-righteous minister Mr. Collins (though he makes an appearance through letters). And, if I had any disappointment in the story, I would say this is one of them: the liveliness of Austen’s characters is muted. Elizabeth seems to have settled completely into life as the mistress of Pemberley, and promptly lost her wittiness, her fire, her spunk. For instance, I would have expected a few less judgments about her sister Lydia as time passed, but her nose is almost as high in the air as Darcy’s aunt’s was about her. Too, I expected a more playful, somehow unconventional relationship between her and Darcy, but it seems staid and rather boring. Another element James left behind in her book was Austen’s often long, circuitous, and winding roads of words strung into sentences simply begging to be re-read for comprehension. This was an utter relief.
The murder mystery was a lively welcome addition. It kept me engaged and speculating, threw in a few good red herrings, and left me actively guessing until the end. As a lawyer, I was fascinated by the history lesson on English criminal law, though I readily admit everyone might not be. The solution to the mystery is quite satisfying. One thing I did not like, however, is that the unfolding of the tale’s end is accomplished with a surfeit of telling, as in someone telling what happens, rather than us finding it out naturally. But this is a very minor criticism for a book I really enjoyed.
Rating on website: 3.5