Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Death Comes to Pemberley
My first introduction to "Death Comes to Pemberley" was via the PBS special, and I found it dull and depressing. Hardly a recommendation to pick up the book! However, two weeks ago I found a copy in the clearance section of the used bookstore, and I was desperate for more reading material, so I said, "Why not?"
Turns out, the book is way better than the TV movie. (Surprise surprise.)
"Death Comes to Pemberley" is a sequel to "Pride and Prejudice" framed as a police procedural. In it, Darcy and Elizabeth are swept up in a murder mystery. Whereas the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mysteries gave a Nick-and-Nora banter to the Darcy's, this novel takes a slightly graver view. In doing so, it revisits a few aspects of the original novel that I never looked at too closely before, but nicely discusses and excuses the potential weaknesses it examines.
Most of the characters of the original novel receive at least cameos or mentions here (as do a few characters from other Austen novels), and I felt were sketched with appropriate justice. James has a solid understanding of Austen culture. The novel begins with a recap of "Pride and Prejudice" as it would have appeared to the populace of Meryton, which is both amusing and useful to the reader who hasn't picked up the original novel in awhile.
My single qualm with the book is that it features slightly less Elizabeth than I would prefer. However, it is a more balanced presentation than the TV movie (Which was even more Darcy heavy) and did a better job of making the other players more intriguing. Indeed, in reading the novel and seeing how much of it depends on inner thought life, I realized exactly why it was a difficult novel to adapt adequately to screen. The structure of the story does not lend itself to making the transition to screen in a satisfying way.
The mystery itself is perhaps not overly original, but it is interesting to see a murder investigation framed within the society and technology of the early 1800s.
James is not only a writer, but a professional in the world of crime solving, something which quickly becomes clear to the reader. I actually found myself thinking several times that I ought to get my husband to read the book. Although it will be enjoyed by female readers (and James is a woman, though using obscuring initials), there is definitely a feel to the novel that I think would appeal to a masculine reader, especially one who enjoys mysteries.
Conclusion: Skip the TV movie - or if you already saw it, push aside your recollections of it. Either way, pick up the novel. It's well worth the read, whether you're a die hard Austenite, a mystery junkie, or a lover of good period fiction.
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