” As soon as Lydia, now grown calmer, had been persuaded into bed Jane felt able to leave her in Belton’s care and joined Elizabeth. Together they hurried to the front door to watch the departure of the rescue party. Bingley, Mrs. Reynold and Stoughton were already there, and the five of them stared into the darkness until the chaise had become two distant and wavering lights and Stoughton turned to shut and bolt the door. ” (Book Two, 3:70)
To commemorate the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s debut appearance in print, publishers have enlisted some popular authors to invent her contemporary oeuvre. Honestly Austen fan-fic and spin-off have explored every angle possible, from monsters to zombies, nothing really can provoke much interest. So when I heard about P.D. James’s book that transplants the dramatis personae from Austen’s Pride and Prejudice into her own suspenseful universe, my expectation soared.
Death Comes to Pemberley finds Darcy and Elizabeth very much in love and at peace in their cozy home with two boys six years after their marriage. But this peace is suddenly shattered by the stress of a murder on the grounds of their vast estate. On the eve of the annual autumn ball, Lydia Wickham, Lizzy’s disgraced sister who had eloped with George Wickham, gate-crashes Pemberley in a coach. She and her husband had been barred from the property so her arrival in a hysterical state is both troubling and unexpected. Wickham is inevitably the cause of this mayhem. A man of sketchy moral character who had induced trouble, he gets the plot rolling when he is discovered slumped over the body of one Captain Denny. A gash across the base of his skull is the cause of death.
Death Comes to Pemberley claims to be a sequel to Pride and Prejudice with a mysterious twist, but the plot is dull and complex. It pays no attention to the characters that Austen portrays with depth and subtlety. James has used the Austin characters without giving them life or personality they had in the original. She plugs them into a her juvenile mystery plot. Darcy is wimpy and unintelligent, Colonel Fitzwilliam is obnoxious. The worst of all is Elizabeth, who is dull and passive. She is dispensable really. James could have used her as the detective to uncover the truth but under James’s pen Elizabeth is like a museum exhibit. As for the so-called mystery, there is no evidence except for the individuals involved, who are also the victims. Lydia, other than her scornful remark against Elizabeth, gives no testimony. She is in full enjoyment of grievance to listen to any reason. Details of the crime, or, more like the approximated incidents leading to the crime, are ruminated, rehashed, repeated, almost word for word, in Colonel Fitzwilliam’s statement, in the inquest, and again in the trial, making possible a “suspense” that bears late, abrupt presentation of previously undisclosed information.
This is the most dreadful, miserable book in a long time. Death Comes to Pemberley fails to live up to expectations of Austen novel and a good mystery. No evidence turns up, nor do the characters make any attempt to find any. No red-herrings. The full story of the murder is randomly turned up in the end, almost as if it’s no mystery. It’s more a realization that was not realized erstwhile. Even more ridiculous are the walk-on roles from another Austen novel that end up playing a role in the resolution. The truth is sordid, but not interesting at all. I’m appalled and horrified this book is even allowed to published. It’s an insult to Austen that the wit of the original has been completely lost.
291 pp. Vintage Books. paper. [
Read/ Skim/Toss] [ Buy/ Borrow]