Friday, 16 December 2011

Death Comes to Pemberley - P.D. James

I am a girl who studies English Literature. Obviously, I love me some Pride and Prejudice. The passion of Mr. Darcy, the wit of Elizabeth Bennet, hell, just the use of the word 'ardently' is enough to have me happily sighing all day. I have seen every movie adaptation and enjoy passionate debates about the relative merits of Darcy versus Bingley. 

I am a girl who grew up with Sherlock Holmes and has watched more detective television than I know what to do with. I have seen so many Japanese crime dramas that I know words like 'suspect', 'prosecuting attorney', 'suicide' and 'blood-splatter' in Japanese. There is absolutely nothing I love more than a puzzle coming together in an interesting and unexpected way. 

You would think with these two very different facets of my personality that I would love Death Comes to Pemberley. A detective story in the style of Jane Austen, Death Comes to Pemberley takes place six years after the end of Pride and Prejudice. Darcy and Elizabeth live at Pemberely with Georgiana and their two sons. Jane and Bingley live close by and come over often for visits. It's all quite idyllic and typical.

The beginning of the novel finds the Darcys on the eve of their annual ball, preparing everything and receiving guests. Late in the night, while a few of the family are remaining in the dining room, there is a frantic knock on the door. Lydia Wickham is hysterical, claiming that Wickham has been killed. And then she faints.

It's definitely a great start to a story, to be sure. The problem is that this tale reads less like a detective novel and more like a court procedural. Darcy and Elizabeth, of course being very proper in their manners due to the customs of the time, don't actually do any of the detective work themselves. Well, Darcy does a bit but only as far as his jurisdiction as the man of the house goes. Otherwise, there are new characters running around and doing police procedurals, Austen-style.

This might be actually interesting if there were any actual detecting going on. This is more of an open and shut case. Of course, there are some twists at the end but most of the novel is Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam and a new character trying to figure out what they're going to say on the witness stand. In a study of Austen-era courtroom drama, I suppose it's interesting. For a book marketed as Jane Austen meets Sherlock Holmes, however, it's a disappointment.

That's not to say that I didn't enjoy it. There are definitely some fun moments and it's nice coming back to familiar characters that are written very much in Austen's style.The insight to what has happened in the six years between the novels is entertaining and if only for that, it's an interesting read. 

If you were coming to watch LIzzy Bennet solve a murder, though, you unfortunately have another thing coming.

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