Book Sixty-Two of 2014: Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

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A rare meeting of literary genius: P. D. James, long among the most admired mystery writers of our time, draws the characters of Jane Austen’s beloved novel Pride and Prejudice into a tale of murder and emotional mayhem.
 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.
 Inspired by a lifelong passion for Austen, P. D. James masterfully re-creates the world of Pride and Prejudice, electrifying it with the excitement and suspense of a brilliantly crafted crime story, as only she can write it.

 I was hesitant to read this book at first. I’ve attempted at some Pride and Prejudice “sequels” and couldn’t get into them very well. Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James is the only “sequel” to one of my favorite books that I was able to start and finish.

The first thing that should be said is that no, the characters are not completely the same as they were in Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth is a bit more controlled and doesn’t seem to have the wit she had in the classic. Darcy is also changed in that he is a bit more out of his shyness. Instead of getting upset though, I took this to be a likely change for a couple who has been together for six years and have children. I am sure Elizabeth Darcy is still witty, but reserves that for intimate times with her husband. Likewise, I can see Darcy attempting to overcome his shyness through his relationship with Elizabeth. Good relationships do that. They help people grow, but doesn’t necessarily changes them completely.

And now for the central part of the story: the mystery. The beginning was very strong and hinted at the old style of whodunnits I love so much. You meet the characters and see the fishy actions of some of those characters. I had myself thinking the killer was someone else entirely. I liked the beginning because I was able to wonder who the killer is and what the motive was (I did get the motive for the most part). I liked the mystery of that and the intrigue.

However, I disliked how the mystery was concluded. The ending seemed too simple and quick. It was what I would call a Deus Ex Machina. I was hoping, as I’m sure others were, that the mystery would have been solved through the investigative skills of the Darcy couple. However, we are only given Darcy’s feelings and attendance at a trial. There is no mention of Elizabeth until the end once everything was solved. I understand that in the time the story takes place, a woman doing anything like that wouldn’t make sense. I also understand that the evidence wouldn’t have held if Darcy took a more pivotal role in solving the crime. However, it felt like the characters we love in Jane Austen’s book were left as spectators and not actual actors to their own mystery.

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