“They wanted dancing and merriment… They got murder” – Back cover
I have been tweeted and recommended this book by many people since (and before) it came out in December last year. However, I was put off, expecting darkness to seep in, and “guilt and misery and such odious subjects” (as Austen herself said about her pen not dwelling on such) to become the focus. However, now I have read it, devoured it perhaps, I can safely say that this sequel is believable, faithful to Pride and Prejudice and an exciting, easy read.
It’s 1803, and the night before a ball at Pemberley, and preparations are full swing. Suddenly, a carriage comes speeding down the driveway, urgently. It contains Lydia who heard shots in the word, and fears Wickham has been killed. As it turns out, it isn’t Wickham who has been injured, but who has been murdered? What follows is a whodunit that, if you’re anything like me, will have you neglecting your loyalty to central characters and accusing them of dirty dealings (at one point I had Georgiana down as the culprit, without any evidence or reasoning).
I picked up this particular book, with an amazingly shocking yellow paperback cover, from QBD Bookshop (Mount Druitt Westfield) for $19.99 ISBN: 978-0-571-28800-7. Covered with blood splatter and with an emphasis on the word ‘murder’ on the back, I can see they were trying to push the crime fiction angle (for which P.D. James is reknowned), but as a pretty solid Janeite this hadn’t inspired me to read it before. I tend to keep my Kathy Reichs and my Regency separate, despite this one shooting up to a No. 1 Bestseller.
Setting into the book with the Author’s Note claiming “I owe an apology to Jane Austen for involving her beloved Elizabeth in the trauma of a murder investigation”, I began reading with skepticism expecting genre-bending to ruin any semblance of Pride and Prejudice.
Yet where I feared the detective or paranormal sides of this book would be taken too far, I was very much mistaken. As a fan of NCIS and similar shows, the law element and the scenes in court were very well done – and, as far as I can tell, historically accurate – and all that was missing was a Sherlock Holmes/know it all figure.
What surprised me, was how in-keeping the responses of the characters are to something as seemingly far-fetched as a murder on the Darcy estate. Having been some time since Pride and Prejudice (Jane and Lizzy have children etc), they’re still seamless with Austen’s original. I also loved how the new characters, such as Mr Alveston, (or fleshed out characters e.g. Mrs Younge) merged perfectly, and added to the existing characters rather than detracted from them.
At times the narrative does drag a little, and I just wanted them to get it over and done with (for instance, the re-telling of Mr Darcy etc heading to the scene of the crime initially happens over five times). But the majority keeps you interested, and little details, such as Catherine de Bourgh’s growing affection for Lizzy, and Lizzy and Charlotte’s decreasing friendship, are interesting tidibits for P&P fans to chew on. Anne de Bourgh, for instance, has passed away (with barely a notice) and we do not have much commentary about the other sisters. It’s unusual to have this and most Jane Austen authors feel the need to detail the ins and outs of every main characters current lives, even where it now doesn’t apply. It was good to see that P.D. James didn’t see this as a necessity. She also kept to quite a narrow time frame, telling this story thoroughly, rather than spanning years and years through the book – another grumble I have with a lot of sequels and retellings where not done well.
I was hoping for some more wit from Elizabeth, some more of her banter with Mr Bennet, and a few insightful, social-commentary style pages, but where this was missing it was filled with interesting elements from the era – for instance, I had entirely forgotten that they could not do any sort of experiment to tell one person’s blood from another.
Certainly, with this book, expect the unexpected. Be ready to get a little frustrated due to the lack of DNA evidence, the inability to obtain a fair trial, and the numerous false conclusions that you, yourself, will come to. But also expect plausibility (with the gory details not “over-done”), an authentic approach to the 19th Century, and your favourite characters to remain so.
And, once you’ve read the story, be sure to read the Epilogue. It’s an absolutely delightful finisher that is entirely out of the norm for a mystery novel, and is exactly how I see Darcy and Elizabeth interacting as a married couple. It also discusses Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice, and all those niggling little things we wished we had seen his opinion on previously.
A really enjoyable read and one that I think Jane Austen would enjoy herself. Did you like it? Does the idea of a murder and Jane Austen put you off?
Watch this interview with P.D. James… I think I love this woman (she re-reads Jane Austen almost every year!) and I agree with her thoughts. She explains that while she normally wouldn’t do a sequel, writing this allowed her to construct a “credible detective story with clues” that deeply analyses Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship. I think she really understands the difficulties that come from writing a sequel or version of a book which so many people love.