I don’t normally read sequels unless they’re penned by the original author but recently I surprised myself by reading Death Comes to Pemberley. I’ve always found PD James intriguing, mostly because she managed to publish more than twenty books after her late arrival to fiction writing in her forties. But that wasn't the only reason. Children of Men is one of my all-time favourite books. I was also curious to see how she would present a crime mystery amongst Austen’s characters who are known for their place in one of the greatest romantic fiction novels ever written.
From the outset we are thrown straight into the years that have passed since Jane married Bingley and Elizabeth married Darcy at the end of P & P. For those who haven’t read that novel the Prologue and first “book” within Death Comes to Pemberley offer a lovely recount of the events leading up to those marriages and the six years that followed. We’re then taken straight to the crime event, a brutal murder in the woodlands of Pemberley in which Darcy’s nemesis, George Wickham, and Elizabeth’s sister, Lydia, are inextricably involved. What follows is a gripping unfolding of a murder investigation and trial that feels utterly authentic as the darker dimensions of Elizabeth and Darcy’s life and times in English history come to life.
Death Comes to Pemberley is a fast-moving and intriguing crime mystery however for me, it stood on its own merits without the Austen springboard. I hoped that I would, but I was never able to bridge the gap between the romantic, social world of the characters created by Austen and the much darker, gloomier characters created by James. In fact James could have changed all the characters’ names and left out the Prologue and it would have made no difference to my reading experience at all. The P & P factor neither added to nor took away from the story.
I really enjoyed Death Comes to Pemberley and read it easily in just a few days. It’s beautifully written, well-researched and an absorbing historical crime novel. I especially loved the detail in which James explores the workings of the early 19th century legal system. And although it didn’t really work for me, I’m sure that for many Jane Austenophiles out there, the familiar characters and the close imitation of the Austen style of writing will add to the enjoyment too. A great read, especially for lovers of historical crime/mystery fiction.