I also received a Jane Austen-themed book in my stocking this year, a mystery by P. D. James with characters from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. People have recommended P. D. James to me before, so I was already interested in reading her books, and given my love of Pride and Prejudice, this was a perfect place to start!
This novel picks up several years after the ending of Pride and Prejudice. The Darcys and Bingleys have settled down and started families, Elizabeth is now accepted by Mr. Darcy’s friends and neighbors (even Lady Catherine!), and everyone is gearing up for Pemberley’s biggest event of the season: Lady Anne’s ball. Which brings us to the first problem: Lydia Wickham also wants to attend, but hasn’t been invited, so she decides to surprise her sister and brother-in-law by showing up the night before the ball. Mr. Wickham still “is not received” at Pemberley, so he and his friend Denny decide to drop Lydia off, then continue on to a local inn. Instead, Lydia arrives alone in the coach, hysterically insisting that Wickham has been murdered. The Darcys and Bingleys know Lydia well enough to take this with a grain of salt. However, when the coachman helps explain that Denny had stormed off into the Pemberley woods after an argument with Wickham, who followed him, and moments later they heard gunshots. Darcy dutifully organizes a search party, and the men soon find Wickham drunkenly crying over Denny’s dead body. Denny has been attacked, although not shot, and given the circumstances, Wickham is the only suspect. But despite their low opinion of the man, no one at Pemberley really believes that Wickham would have murdered his best friend.
The odd thing about this book is that none of the main characters do any real detective work. There is a mystery, but the characters and the reader sort of watch it unfold. Of course, this does make sense from a realistic historical perspective. Although Darcy in particular is very concerned about the outcome of the investigation, since the crime took place on his land and his brother-in-law is accused, he has to maintain some distance/impartiality. He can get Wickham a lawyer, but not go searching through the woods for clues. It is definitely a different approach to a mystery novel. (And don’t worry, there is a solution at the end!)
The inscrutable Mr. Darcy is a difficult main character to work with and, although I was initially interested to read more from his point of view, I eventually concluded that it made the book less interesting. It was nice to see the other characters from his perspective, but I really missed Elizabeth’s wit. She is the main reason we love Pride and Prejudice so much, and I wanted to see more of her. One character who does get more of a chance to shine, however, is Georgiana Darcy. I also thought that James did an excellent job of summarizing what had become of most of the cast of P&P at the beginning of the book. Her imagined futures for the different characters were well-chosen, true to Austen, and very fun to read. I give this book three and a half stars. If you are a fan of Austen or P. D. James, you should definitely consider reading it! ★★★1/2