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Monday, September 16, 2013

Review: A Death at Pemberley by P.D. James

Death Comes to PemberleyDeath Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've been branching out to some of the Austen pastiches lately, now that I've read all of the novels published during Jane Austen's lifetime. I'd heard some of them were really good, and this one is often listed as one of the books worth reading. I'm sad to say, I felt like it didn't add a whole lot to the world or characters, though it was plausible enough.

Five years after the events of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are preparing to hold a ball when Lydia shows up, distraught that her husband has run off into the woods chasing his old friend, Denny, and they heard gunshots. Lydia is prone to melodrama, but, it turns out, her panic is justified. Denny has been killed by blunt force trauma, and Wickham seems to confess to his murder, except that he's very drunk and upset.

The book goes through the initial investigation, the trial, and the murderer's confession. The matter is far more complicated than it appears, and of course Wickham isn't entirely blameless in the way things play out. He's learned very little in the last five years, and grown up not at all.

The story references characters from many of Jane Austen's novels, not just Pride and Prejudice. The Elliotts are mentioned, as is Emma's good friend Harriet. There may be other crossovers, as well, but those are the ones I recognized.

The book has a lot of details not included in most of Austen's work. There's a lot of discussion of servants and what keeps Elizabeth busy from day to day. The investigation and trial are certainly matters Austen never dealt with, and war and drunkenness are discussed more openly. We get some insight into Darcy's internal life, and the upbringing of his and Elizabeth's children is discussed in passing.

Mostly, though, the story seems like a pointless inclusion, adding nothing to the Austen oeuvre. Nor is it much of a mystery novel; the characters do very little investigation of the matter, and the confession falls into their laps without any intervention on their part. The story, itself, felt uneven and badly paced, and I kept getting jarred out of the story with its sudden leaps.

If you're a Jane Austen fan, unless you're a diehard who'll pick up everything associated with her name, you might want to give this one a pass. I didn't feel like this was a particularly strong related work.


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