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Death Comes to Pemberley

picture of book cover

It takes a fair amount of chutzpah to think “Gosh, Pride and Prejudice sure was great, but what it really could have used was a dash of murder.”
Luckily, British luminary P.D. James pulls it off. (And it’s worth noting that, in addition to her many accomplishments, James is 91. 91! At the rate I’m going, I suspect that by that age I'll be in a full delusional state and believe I'm actually Jane Austen, or the Dowager Countess).
Death Comes to Pemberley begins been six years since Elizabeth Bennet became the mistress of lavish country estate, and now she and Darcy are living a fairly staid existence. But the devilish Wickham and his wife Lydia (one of Elizabeth’s sisters) are destined to once again throw their family into turmoil.
A plan for Lydia to crash the annual Pemberly ball goes awry when their friend, Captain Denny, jumps from their carriage and runs into the woods. Lydia then arrives in a hysterical state at Pemberly, and a search party that includes Darcy go to find Wickham and Denny. In the Woodlands, they discover Wickham covered in blood and “in the liquor,” while stating Denny’s death is his fault.
Since this is a murder investigation, it’s Darcy as the magistrate who becomes the lead here, with Elizabeth unable to do much but offer comfort and reflect on her family. But the entanglement of everyone’s lives – as the reader will remember, Wickham tried to seduce Darcy’s sister years ago, flirted with Elizabeth and then eloped with Lydia – proves that the past is always the present.
Pride and Prejudice is a novel that should be read every ten years, as the reader will scratch the surface in her teens, swoon at Darcy in her mid-20s, and pragmatically observe in her 30s how Elizabeth seems to fall in love with Darcy's estate as much as the man himself. It’s this tone that James is able to nail, as Elizabeth wonders “and would she herself have married Darcy had he been a penniless curate or a struggling attorney?” Death Comes to Pemberly is a mystery, but one far more interested in characters, class and history. That said, as Wickham’s web of lies becomes entangled, the reader is kept guessing as to whether he’s merely of terrible character or capable of murder. 
Without giving too much away, readers will be delighted at the appearance of characters from other works of Austen, and how that while Darcy and Elizabeth may have matured, some characters will never change. Elizabeth's relative by marriage, one Miss Bingley, for example, is in a “pursuit of a widowed peer of great wealth was entering a most hopeful phase. Admittedly without his peerage and his money he would have been regarded as the most boring man in London, but one cannot be expected to be called ‘your grace’ without some inconvenience, and his competition for his wealth, title and anything else he cared to bestown was understandably keen.”
This is not a mystery in which there’s something for everyone, as I don’t think you’d get much out of it if you haven’t read— and remembered — Austen’s books. But for those of us who have spent the winter embroiled in Downton Abbey and love a bit of historical British mystery, you’ll enjoy spending some time with Death Comes to Pemberly, preferably with a cup of tea and scone by your side.