I’ve always rather liked Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh of London’s Criminal Investigation Department – he is exactly what a fictional detective should be: tall, dark and handsome, well-read, a published poet, and with the tragic dead wife in his past. So when I came across an old P.D. James novel that I hadn’t read before, I was quite delighted.
I hadn’t gotten too far when I needed to flick back to the start to check the publication date: 1963. It’s actually quite surprising how well James’ books have aged – the language does not feel dated nor the stories lacking in any way, but there were some seriously archaic elements to this book. The fact that a murder occurs in a psychiatric clinic seemed less shocking to me than the fact that they were treating their patients with LSD. I also kind of missed the importance of a theft of £15, as I assumed that amount was change someone had left in a drawer. And don’t even get me started on the comical rents for Hampstead back in the day, that were intended to shock at £12 PER WEEK! I must admit these were among the things that stopped me becoming too caught up with the story itself, and I pretty much skim read most of the book just to find out whodunit.
James wrote 14 Adam Dalgliesh novels – this being the second. If you were interested in trying them I would suggest being rather counter-intuitive and starting with the more recent ones, otherwise you might never get to realise what a great writer P.D. James is.
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).
As a fan of both Jane Austen and P.D. James, I went into this with an expectation of a mix between period drama and modern murder mystery in the story. I assumed this book would be Pride and Prejudice (PaP) with a dogged and smart professional or amateur sleuth dropped into the proceedings, interviewing witnesses, sniffing out clues, and solving the mystery in the drawing room of Pemberley surrounded by suspects, dramatically pointing out the culprit as the rest of the company gasped in shock.
Taking place about six years after the end of PaP, the book starts out with a prolouge, catching us all up with the Darcy, Bennet, and Bingley families and their friends. The Darcys and Bingleys live near each other and not too near the Bennets, other events such as weddings and births have taken place, and everything (save for a few unfortunate relations) seems tranquil and harmonious. As the story itself begins, Lizzie and Darcy are planning their annual ball in the name of Darcy’s mother. The Bingleys are visiting to help out and everyone is busy preparing for the next night’s festivities, although Lizzie takes time out to worry about a potential love triangle between Miss Georgianna and two suitors. As everyone is getting ready to go to bed, an almost out-of-control carriage pulls up. Lydia Wickham tumbles out, screaming hysterically that her husband has been shot and is dead. As you can imagine, all H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks breaks loose (or as loose as upper class 18th century society is allowed to get).
James attempts to write the book in Austen’s style and mostly succeeds. The death is investigated by the local authorities, but this isn’t a who-dunnit – we find out what happens, but not due to a plucky investigator – the truth just kind of comes out at the end. At times it’s more along the lines of a gothic novel, with mysterious figures that could be ghosts, haunted woods, and scared house maids. It’s an interesting story, and I enjoyed it immensely, but if you like actual murder mysteries and not period drama, this book may not be for you. I don’t think you need to be a rabid Austen fan to like this book, but if you are familiar with her work there will be a couple of Easter eggs you can spot.