Joy for James fans – another murder

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 3, 2012

“Death Comes to Pemberley,” by P.D. James. 2012. Knopf. 291 pp. $25.95.
By Deirdre Parker Smith
SALISBURY — She may be in her 90s, but P.D. James’ skills have not dulled one bit, as she proves in “Death Comes to Pemberley,” a murder mystery that picks up where Jane Austen left off in “Pride and Prejudice.”
James, in her author’s note, admits she’s taken quite the liberty with Elizabeth Darcy: “I owe an apology to the shade of Jane Austen for involving her beloved Elizabeth in the trauma of a murder investigation …”
But to her loyal readers she owes no apology whatsoever, as this foray into the mannered, measured, marvelous world of upper class England in the early 1800s brims with detail and hums along with James’ usual authenticity
A stickler for getting things right, James must have been deeply steeped in Austen to pull this off. But don’t worry: If you haven’t read “Pride and Prejudice,” you will still enjoy this story. If you are a “P and P” fan, you should be right at home.
If you are expecting Adam Dalgleish, though, you will be disappointed, as he is now married and living happily without danger at the moment — at least that’s the impression with which we were left.
But if you read James as many fans do, for the sheer joy of her creativity and meticulous attention to detail, you will settle down happily with the denizens of Pemberley.
And don’t worry about missing Baroness James’ trademark — the consequences of murder. She works that in here, too, although in this world, unpleasant things are best left unspoken, as to bring up such indelicate matters is an affront to their more fragile sensibilities.
Indeed, even before the murder, Elizabeth’s sister, Jane, laughs “… But perhaps we should not discuss this matter further. Gossip about the feelings of others when we cannot fully understand them, and they may not understand them themselves, can be a cause of distress.”
The dread act involves none other than Elizabeth’s reprobate brother-in-law, George Wickham, who made that unfortunate marriage to young Lydia Bennet, Elizabeth’s sister.
Darcy has a complicated past with Wickham, once his boyhood, though lower class, friend, now his brother, but forbidden from ever being a guest at Pemberley again.
Wickham, though a decorated war hero, is a cad — a womanizer (though that word did not exist then), a ne’er-do-well of the worst sort, frequently losing employment, friends and lodging due to his scheming ways.
In fact, he’s not welcome in many places, but that doesn’t stop him from turning up in the woods of Pemberley, unfortunately bloodied, leaning over the body of his dead friend, Captain Denny.
So begins the tense saga featuring all the familiar characters, from Elizabeth and Darcy to their faithful servants, Mrs. Reynolds and Stoughton, to Elizabeth’s sister, Jane, and her husband at Highmarten; the excitable Lydia, who does little more than exclaim; serious cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam; Darcy’s sister, Georgiana; the loyal but somewhat mysterious Bidwell family, who live in a cottage on the property; and various magistrates, constables, solicitors, shady characters and gossipy neighbors.
James recreates the world of Pemberley with all its necessary trappings — all the things that make it Austen and keep the reader glued to the pages to find out what happens next.
The plot and subplots, the plethora of characters (and characteristics) make a quick synopsis impossible, plus it might give away a clue or two, and that would just be unforgiveable.
There’s is the matter of Darcy’s sister Georgiana’s suitors, and all the details for Lady Anne’s annual ball to distract you from the crime at hand, but the author deftly knits all together with her usual flair and uncanny channeling of Austen.
“Death Comes to Pemberley” should please Austen fans, James fans, lovers of mystery, lovers of the Regency period.
It’s just the thing to settle into for a couple of long, dark nights, with the assurance, unusual for a James’ novel, that the sun will shine brightly on all involved tomorrow.