Anyone who knows anything about me knows
that I adore Jane Austen's novels. They are books that I would read over and over and over again if I weren't so obsessively finding new books to read. I have a ridiculously long to-read list that will probably never be completed. Really, I should read all the classics first and then read new books, but by that point there will be so many new books that I'll be behind even more....
But I digress.
P.D. James is apparently a well-known mystery novelist, but I hadn't heard of her until Death Comes to Pemberley was released last year. I literally stumbled upon it on the internets, due to using the aptly named StumbleUpon website. I immediately added it to my to-read list on GoodReads.com, but promptly forgot about it. I suppose have a pretty good excuse -- I was planning my wedding, sewing my wedding dress (which, ironically enough, is Jane Austen inspired), and then finally getting married. Whew. My reading slacked off a lot during that time. I'm digressing again, but this does sort of actually have to do with my review for this book. ^_^
Anyway, I finally put this book on hold last month at my new library, and it came in a couple weeks ago. Being busy reading A Game of Thrones (see two reviews back), I decided I could wait. Yesterday, I finally picked it up. And proceeded to read it in one day. Which is why, of course, I am writing a review only a day after my last one.
Death Comes to Pemberley begins with a prologue that gives a quick and insightful look into the past at the events of Pride and Prejudice, bringing the reader up to the time in which the book takes place, six years after Elizabeth Bennet's marriage to Fitzwilliam Darcy. It was clear to me already that James knows Austen's characters very well.
At Pemberley, the household is in the midst of final preparations for Lady Anne's Ball, a ball which has been held without incident for many years. Lady Anne was Mr. Darcy's mother, and Elizabeth wished to keep the focus off herself, so they kept the title. That evening, a carriage is seen careening up the drive to Pemberley and a distraught woman jumps out, crying that her husband is most certainly dead....
I think that's all I will tell you, because no review of a mystery should give away anything.
I will, however, comment on the writing. P.D. James is a brilliant writer, of that I am certain. She is able to take characters that have been beloved for centuries, and keep their characteristics but also give them new depth as befits a story taking place some years after the initial events that brought them together. And, as was characteristic of Jane Austen herself, James wrote in layers. All mysteries have layers, this is true, but the layers of this tale are completely reminiscent of Austen, being more social and potentially scandalous than mysterious, and I found myself almost feeling that Jane had written this tale herself and it had only come to light now.
The other thing I enjoyed about this novel was that James gives a nod to two of Austen's other novels, Persuasion and Emma. The Elliots are mentioned as acquaintances twice, and the Knightleys (as well as Harriet Smith and her Robert Martin) help save Pemberley from certain scandal at the end of the book. This takes place "off-screen" so to speak, but to see their names in a tale about the Bennets and Darcys was exciting.
There have been many books written that continue telling Elizabeth and Darcy's story, but this is by far one of the best. I think I actually have to give it five stars, because it was just that brilliantly written. And for a modern novelist to make me think I am reading Jane Austen's own writing...well, that's just awesome.