Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice is one of my all-time favorite books. Despite this I’ve always been a little reluctant to pick up one of the many sequels that have exploded onto the scene in recent years. I’ve read the zombie version, and years ago read a disappointing follow up that told Georgiana Darcy’s tale. Honestly, I consider it a little presumptuous at times to write about characters that aren’t your own, especially ones from classics like this. Sure, who are we to say that Austen didn’t foresee the events of Death Comes to Pemberley in Lizzie and Darcy’s future? However, I feel like PD James’ mystery didn’t do one of the world’s most beloved couples any favors here, and so I caution Austen lovers everywhere: this may not really be what you’re seeking.
The novel begins somewhat mundanely with a recap of the events of Pride & Prejudice that I found superfluous. Aren’t you likely to have read it if you’re interested in a sequel to it? And seriously, it’s hard for me to fathom someone not knowing at least the story, even if they’ve only consumed the more recent film version directed by Joe Wright, in lieu of a dogged examination like I performed in my Victorian lit class in college. Anyhoodle, that’s really no matter. We are reminded where we left off with a lengthy summary of the original novel’s events, and then we meet Darcy and Elizabeth once again. It’s been 6 years since their marriage and they are happily ensconced at Pemberley with two wonderful sons and Lizzie’s beloved sister Jane (and her husband Bingley) nearby. All seems well and the preparations for an annual ball held at Pemberley are underway when, late the night before the ball is to take place, Lizzie’s youngest sister Lydia arrives in a disastrous state fearing her husband, the handsome rake George Wickham, has been murdered in the woods of Pemberley. As it turns out, it’s not Wickham; it’s his best (and only) friend Denny who has become the victim of foul play. Since Wickham is found covered in his friend’s blood shouting that it’s all his fault, naturally he’s the town’s only suspect. What follows is a LENGTHY examination of the criminal justice system in early 19th century England and the mystery of Wickham’s innocence (or possible lack thereof).
In case it hasn’t been obvious up to this point, I didn’t really like this book. For one thing, it’s excessively long. There are page-length descriptions of day-to-day life with the Darcy’s that might have been interesting if they weren’t serving as a cold shower of sorts on the pace of a murder mystery. I don’t know that we really care all that much about the matter of Jane and Bingley building up their library, or how Lizzie and Darcy chose their nanny. When we’re treated to the witness accounts we get them at least two or three times! First we hear the details after Denny is discovered. Next, they’re related in discussions amongst all the present parties and with the local magistrate. Following this, some of the particulars are relayed again at the local inquest (I think it’s like an indictment here), and finally, at the official trial later. It’s way too much and perhaps James is assuming her readers are as ancient and forgetful as she is. That may seem unkind but since I’ve heard her name associated with mystery novels for ages, I’ll assume she can handle it.
The other major flaw I saw in this book is that I think she got the main characters wrong. There wasn’t any of the teasing, loving relationship we’re promised at the end of Pride & Prejudice. In fact our favorite couple seems fairly cold and disinterested in general, much less in each other. They do think of each other and refer to needing to see each other for comfort but that’s about as warm and fuzzy as we get.
The murder mystery unravels too slowly and kind of out of nowhere; I can’t explain my major complaint with the denouement without spoiling things, but suffice it to say this book didn’t really feel like a mystery novel at all. There wasn’t really an investigation to watch, or any gathering of evidence for or against the defendant. Overall, I’d not recommend this to anyone but the heartiest of PD James fans. Mystery lovers will be left cold and Darcy lovers certainly will be as well.