It is 1803, six years since Elizabeth and Darcy embarked on their life together at Pemberley, Darcy’s magnificent estate. Their peaceful, orderly world seems almost unassailable. Elizabeth has found her footing as the chatelaine of the great house. They have two fine sons, Fitzwilliam and Charles. Elizabeth’s sister Jane and her husband, Bingley, live nearby; her father visits often; there is optimistic talk about the prospects of marriage for Darcy’s sister Georgiana. And preparations are under way for their much-anticipated annual autumn ball.
Then, on the eve of the ball, the patrician idyll is shattered. A coach careens up the drive carrying Lydia, Elizabeth’s disgraced sister, who with her husband, the very dubious Wickham, has been banned from Pemberley. She stumbles out of the carriage, hysterical, shrieking that Wickham has been murdered. With shocking suddenness, Pemberley is plunged into a frightening mystery.
I have mixed feelings about this book. It started off ok-ish, with someone who clearly knows her Pride and Prejudice and tries to set this off as a sequel. It’s not long however before there are differences. Colonel Fitzwilliam has changed character – something that James clearly has twigged and tries to explain away with the death of older brothers and forcing Fitzwilliam into the inheriting his father’s title and responsibilities.
Darcy becomes the primary character of the book, and many of the sillier characters of the original – Mrs Bennet and Mr Collins – are resigned to virtual non existence. I dont know if this is because James could not find a way of introducing them into the story or if she was not up to writing so stupid a set of characters. Likewise Lydia – despite being married to one of the main characters in the book – hardly says a word and is rapidly dispatched away from Pemberley as quickly as the story allows.
The story quickly becomes a standard P. D. James “whodunnit” and could have been fitted into almost any set of character names. It didnt need to be a “P&P sequel” at all.
Where there was dialogue I found little of it to be light, witty and flirtatious, and some of it to be long and boring – especially at the end when there is a rehash of the Darcy and Elizabeth “when we fell in love” discussion which was done so much better, lighter and shorter by Austen.
So on the whole – rather good P.D James mystery that would have been better had she not shoehorned someone else’s characters into the book