Book review: Death Comes to Pemberley

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I do love a good mystery. I thoroughly enjoy Jane Austen’s novels as well. P.D. James has gone and put the two together in Death Comes to Pemberley, and does an astounding job of it. This really is a murder mystery done in the tone and style of Jane Austen, using the familiar characters from Pride and Prejudice. It would totally be believable as a shocking sequel to Pride and Prejudice if Jane Austen a)were to write any sequels and b)were to write something as gory and ugly as a murder.

I admit that I didn’t remember all the characters that had already been introduced in Pride and Prejudice (ahem, Captain Denny, the poor victim), but it was kind of delightful “catching up” with these characters six years after the events of P&P transpired. Indulgent, sure, but it definitely enables James to easily establish our sympathies for these characters, their actions and their motivations without having to spend a lot of time with backstory.

The journey in the book towards uncovering the actual whodunit and resolution was entertaining enough, and no, I did not figure it out before it was revealed to me. I did notice most of the clues as they were uncovered in the book, but did not piece them together in time.

What was equally as interesting to me were the details about life in the early 1800’s in England and contrasting them to today. Two things in particular stayed with me while I was reading: women’s roles and letter writing as the main form of communication.

First is the view of women and their role to play in English noble life. Or rather, their non-role especially when it comes to matters of the law. Part way through the book, the point of view switches from Elizabeth to Darcy, and stays there for the remainder of the novel. It has to, in order to follow the action of finding the murder victim, the investigation and the court case. All these activities would have been shielded from the women as best as possible to “protect” them. It’s a patronizing view I am glad we are rid of nowadays.

The second: letters as the chief form of communication, and the necessary amount of time people needed to dedicate to corresponding. Not only that, but the time it takes for a letter to be hand delivered and information received is only as fast as a horse can go. This made for a dramatic plot point in this novel. It is amazing how fast our communications have gotten in 200 years, with our internet, email, Twitter and the like. The Luddite in me pines for those beautifully written sentences, thinking that the slowness of the pen lets the creative turns of phrases and romantic flourishes to appear. This in contrast to the brief staccato informational blips of text messages or emails zipped off from a keyboard where typing 40 words a minute is easily done.

This was a highly enjoyable read that I polished off in one day. It’s my first P.D. James novel, and I’m intrigued enough to give another one of hers a go. (I didn’t know she was the author of Children of Men, that the movie was based from)

Oh, and Wickham is still a cad!