If you think of Regency and the Novel of Manners, the first name that comes to your mind is Jane Austen. What happens if you think of contemporary murder mystery novels? P.D. James is one of the first names that you recall. What happens if you put the two iconic names together? Death comes to Pemberley, of course. I mean you expect a crime must someway take place somewhere in the otherwise-too-peaceful Regency world of Jane Austen.
This is what P.D. James’s skill and experience imagined and crafted in her new novel, which is a tribute to one of her favourite authors, a myth, Jane Austen. In Death Comes To Pemberley she blends her knowledge of the fields of prosecution processes and murder investigations with her fondness for Jane Austen’s world. She weaves a gripping mystery and the resulting detective story is thrilling. She adds a sensitive insight to the successful and happy marriage of the Darcys -Elizabeth Bennet and Fitwilliam Darcy - now shadowed by a murder occurred in their lands.
The year is 1803, Darcy and Elizabeth have been married for 6 years now. They have two handsome and healthy sons, Jane and Bingley live within 17 miles, they are hosting their annual autumn ball and the secure life at Pemberley seems unassailable. But their peace and happiness is threatened just on the eve of the great event: in the middle of the night a chaise appears, docking down the path from the woodland and Lydia Wickam, an uninvited and most unwelcome guest, tumbles out screaming that her dear Mr Wickham has been murdered. Old sins and misunderstandings are rekindled. Darcy and Elizabeth will be involved in a murder case and will strive to defend the reputation of their family and the tranquillity of their life.
Is there any space for romance? Little but, yes, of course. Miss Georgiana Darcy is sought-after by two suitors: Colonel Fitzwilliam - now the heir of the title and fortune of his family after his elder brother’s death - and young Alveston, a successful lawyer but also the heir of an ancient baronetcy . Who will she marry in the end?
As for love, may Wickham reckless love life - even as a married man - be included? The answer may well be, “no, it should not”, but that scoundrel’s extramarital affairs will be crucial in this story in order to understand the reasons of the crime at the heart of Death Comes to Pemberley.
What’s new respect to Jane Austen in this novel inspired to her Pride and Prejudice and set in the Regency era?
- Detailed information about the law and the arrangement of a prosecution process in that period
- Constant reference to the historical background (the Napoleonic wars, the resulting economic depression)
- The world of the servants (their thoughts, their feelings, the strives in their poor lives were totally absent in Austen)
- Irony and wit are only occasional. The tone is typical of a serious investigation.
You needn't be an expert Austenite or know Pride and Prejudice by heart to appreciate PD James’s new novel, there are constant flashbacks and additions explaining the background of the characters introduced. However, if you are an Austenite you’ll enjoy Ms James’s tribute to our beloved author and you’ll be glad to recognize characters from other of her novels (Emma and Persuasion) peeping out here and there in the story.
Thanks to Faber & Faber UK for providing my review copy.
Take a look at my previous post about this book with author video interview