Written by PD James — Most famous for her Adam Dalgleish and Cordelia Gray mysteries, PD James has more than 20 works to her name in a career spanning almost 60 years. Last summer, it was revealed that her next novel would be a crime novel based on her favourite book, Pride and Prejudice. Since its publication Death Comes to Pemberley has had a decidedly mixed reception, but here at CFL we felt it certainly warranted closer inspection.
Death Comes To Pemberley picks up Elizabeth and Darcy’s story six years into their marriage. It’s 1803 and the couple are now comfortably settled into family life with two young sons on their Derbyshire estate, and the Bingleys live nearby. Final preparations for the autumn Lady Anne ball are underway and Colonel Fitzwilliam, Georgiana Darcy, the Bingleys and their young friend Henry Alveston have already arrived. All is serene but their peace is to be short-lived.
An angel of death descends on them in the form of Elizabeth’s younger sister Lydia, who arrives in the middle of the night screaming that her husband has been murdered. Before the night is out the situation is reversed when the presumed victim turns out to be very much alive, but the prime suspect for the murder of his friend Captain Denny. This is a story of two halves – the first focusing on the aftermath of the murder on the inhabitants of Pemberley, and the second centred on Wickham’s trial and its surprising outcome. A few well hidden secrets are about to be unearthed in the process.
One of the most interesting new characters introduced to the cast is Henry Alveston, a young lawyer befriended by the Bingleys who has formed a close attachment to Georgiana Darcy. Alveston is a legal reformer who bears a striking resemblance to the real life reformer William Garrow. He’s a passionate radical who thinks the criminal justice system is littered with inadequacies, something that highlights the writer’s 21st century knowledge of reforms that were already in progress at the turn of the 19th century. Some readers may find the discussion a little too detailed but it serves to emphasise that Wickham’s life is very much in the balance. With no discernible motive, Wickham is subjected to trial by character assassination, with no chance of appeal. He may be a cad but is he really a killer?
This isn’t a book that requires you to be overly familiar with Jane Austen’s classic novel. In fact, it’s an advantage to read it without any prior knowledge as the story is retold for you throughout with characters from several of her other works putting in an appearance. To an extent this becomes an unnecessary distraction from what is in essence a well-plotted murder mystery. Nevertheless, fans of a good old-fashioned courtroom drama will find themselves absorbed by the trial scenes and the surprising conclusion that this tale has in store.
Faber and Faber
CFL Rating: 3 Stars