P.D. James (1920-2014) remains one of the best known and best-read British mystery writers. Beginning in 1962, she wrote 14 Inspector Adam Dalgliesh mysteries, two about private investigator Cordelia Gray, and three other novels. Her final novel before her death was Death Comes to Pemberley, which used the characters and setting of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for a murder mystery.
It is several years after Elizabeth Bennett marries Fitzwilliam Darcy. They have two sons, and Elizabeth has her hands full running the house of the Pemberley estate, including planning for the annual ball. Unexpectedly, a horse-drawn carriage comes careening up the drive. Inside is Lydia Wickham, Elizabeth’s sister and the wife of George Wickham, a former army officer forced to marry Lydia is something of a shotgun marriage. The hysterical Lydia says George and Captain Denny, had bolted into the Pemberley woods, and then shots were heard.
Darcy and two of his guests investigate, and come upon a drunk Wickham leaning over the body of his friend. Wickham is eventually arrested and charged with murder.
Death Comes to Pemberley, published in 2011, was made into a British television mini-series in 2013. I saw the series before reading the book, and the movie definitely follows the written story closely.
The novel is in the style of Austen, and it’s rather fun to see one approach to what has happened to the characters of Pride and Prejudice. But this last work by James is something of a departure from James’s usual police procedural novels (some of the best written police procedural novels available). And there is a considerable amount of narrative advancement or backfilling that happens in the epilogue that could have been woven into the main story.
The main narrative culminates in a trial with a surprise conclusion and unexpected developments flowing from the trial.
I enjoyed the novel, but this is one of those reverse situations where the television series was better. And you can watch all three episodes on YouTube.
Top photograph: Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, the setting for the television series Death Comes to Pemberley.