Death Comes to Pemberly by P.D. James
Published by: Knopf
Publication Date: December 6th, 2011
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
Elizabeth and Darcy have been married for some time. Theirs is a happy life. Despite any reservations Darcy had about his wife, she rose to each and every challenge. She runs the household and Pemberley with the love and respect of her staff and family, which already has two healthy little boys. Her sister, Jane, lives a short distance away and comes to Pemberley often with her husband Bingley. The household is in a massive upheaval in preparation for their annual ball which was a tradition of Darcy's mother, and which the family still upholds. The night before the ball has the family gathered together, Jane and Bingley have arrived early to help Elizabeth and Georgiana with the preparations, as well as Georgiana's two suitors, her cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and an up-and-coming barrister, Alveston. What happens that night as they go to bed will change the lives of everyone present. Lydia arrives unexpectedly saying that Wickham and Denny are wandering in the woods and one of them is possibly dead, her and the coachman having heard gunshots. This being Lydia, she isn't that concise, or coherent, but the gist is understood.
Going into the depths of the forest, Wickham is found alive and crouching over the lifeless form of Denny. Wickham, despite initial incoherence, declares his innocence. But it's not that easy claiming innocence above the corpse of your friend who you've just argued with. The following days and months are spent in endless waiting. What will happen to Wickham? What really happened in those woods? Are they cursed? Will the shades of Permberley be thus polluted?
PD James is the mistress of mystery, the dame of death, the final word in her genre. Therefore I was expecting a lot more. I don't know why I should let myself get these high expectations, they are almost always crushed... but there you go, one of my many character flaws. Though I suspect PD of a greater character flaw, a Wickham sympathiser. I could not get ride of this nagging feeling the entire book that she didn't much care for Darcy and Elizabeth (who where woefully underused and also felt guilt towards Wickham) and really liked Wickham, who was given a lifestyle in youth that his true station in life could never support. Boo freakin' hoo. I bought this book for one purpose only, to see Wickham get what he deserves. A creeping leech who worms his way into peoples hearts and has been unrepentant in his ways all these many years. Yes, I know he's a fictional character, but unlike Willoughby, he had NO REMORSE!
Die Wickham, die! Which sadly, did not happen. But the whole mystery itself, aside from my Wickham issues was lackluster. I'm pretty decent at figuring mysteries out. Sometimes I don't try and I let myself enjoy the ride of reading the book, but not here. Here I was beat over the head with the clues so I couldn't avoid them. Heavy-handed foreshadowing indeed! I won't spoil it, but when PD went into a bit too much detail about certain "new" characters as well as a certain canines resting place, you should be able to put two and two together. If there had been some little twist, some little something, more fear, more gore, perhaps it would have taken this book beyond a cosy to something more enjoyable. Instead it seemed PD was more interested in the court proceedings of the day than actually creating suspense.
Of course I must handle the elephant in the room. There is a certain pressure of writing Austen. Books fall into two camps, the homage and the direct continuation. I personally like the homage. There's more fun to be hand, there's more you can do and there's less chance that you will attract the ire of Janites. Authors like Lauren Willig have successfully written with the flavor and time period of Austen without desecrating the hallowed six. Death Comes to Pemberley is of the second more dangerous camp and she creates a major fly in the ointment before the first page ends, with mistakenly referring to the odious Mr. Collins as Mr. Bennet's nephew. Um, no. Check your facts. He is a cousin. So step one, get your facts right, totally out the window. Then PD tries to jokingly/cleverly put in allusions to two other books in Austen's cannon. The first joke, about Wickham working for the Elliot's was very funny and you could see it as a possibility in some weird literature mash-up. But the second joke bringing in Emma, fell totally flat and seemed too much of a contrivance versus some little bit of fun on the side. True Janites should avoid this book like the plague. But if you're more of a causal Austen fan and aren't very good with the foreshadowing, go for it, it does have a pretty cover and the supporting characters that weren't in Pride and Prejudice are fun.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Death Comes to Pemberly by P.D. James