Title: Death Comes To Pemberley
Author: P.D. James
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
Genre: Historical Fiction
How I Read It: Hard cover received as a gift.
Synopsis: It is 1803, six years since Elizabeth and Darcy embarked on their life together at Pemberley, Darcy’s magnificent estate. Their peaceful, orderly world seems almost unassailable. Elizabeth has found her footing as the chatelaine of the great house. They have two fine sons, Fitzwilliam and Charles. Elizabeth’s sister Jane and her husband, Bingley, live nearby; her father visits often; there is optimistic talk about the prospects of marriage for Darcy’s sister, Georgiana. 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.
My Review: It may come as a shock that this book is my actual introduction into the world of Jane Austen, unless you count a million viewings of the movie Clueless, which is based off a different Austen novel. I haven’t ever read a stitch of Austen’s work, so I entered this book with no knowledge or prejudices about any of the characters. This book gives enough background so that someone like me is not entirely confused as to who is who, and hints just enough at the past and present of each of these characters that you can get a bit of an idea about them before the bulk of the novel starts.
Given that most other readers probably have read Pride & Prejudice, I’ll spare a description or comment on our cast of characters, since I don’t have P&P to compare them to anyway. What we have in this story is really a classic whodunit, with a bloody supposed murderer standing over a dead body. To make matters worse, we get a confession of sorts, which throws everything into disarray.
The rest of the book deals primarily with the trial(s) of the accused, and a telling of how it affects the other characters in the novel. Due to the Darcy’s strained relationship with the Wickham’s, there is a lot of speculation regarding that aspect, which I found confusing and somewhat irrelevant. Also, I kind of felt like I was actually in the courtroom, because we spend a lot of time reading testimony from various witnesses – testimony we had already read the night of the murder, then again at the initial hearing, and then at the final trial. I was a bit bored by this, I would have happily read a little summary that said “so and so gave their testimony from the day, it was the same as before”, and been spared the extra time.
The actual motivations for the mysterious fight that takes place right before the murder, and the circumstances surrounding that entire scenario, felt weird and kind of forced to me. I understand there will be secrets revealed in this kind of investigation, but a lot of it felt awfully convenient to me. Perhaps I’m more accustomed to modern proceedings, or the reading of murder mysteries where more time is spent on the investigation and unraveling through police work rather than coincidence. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I didn’t love the way this all played out.
All that said, I didn’t hate the novel and it did entertain me. There were times I felt it difficult to read, I think due to the previously mentioned boredom. It’s a little disappointing, I’ve heard such great things about the source novel and PD James, so I’m hoping her other work is better than this.
Read this book if: I think if you see this one at the library, go ahead and pick it up. I wouldn’t necessarily buy it if I were you. Some Austen fans may enjoy it too.
My Rating: 3/5 – Two thumbs up, fine holiday fun!