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This is the second time I’ve read this book, the first for fun a couple of years ago and again this past week for book club. It was a lot harder to read the second time around and I’m not quite sure why. Maybe it’s because since then I’ve started reading original Jane Austen stories and being more familiar with older romance books and the language style this no longer held the amusement it had the first time? Maybe it’s because I was bogged down with work and study and reading for pleasure turned into a chore for a while. Whatever the reason I was left this time with the feeling of “meh”.
Death in Pemberley takes place 6 years after the marriage of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy and they live in their happy ever after with 2 sons and close by to elder sister Jane and family. Everything is very cosy with Elizabeth planning the annual Lady Anne ball until rogue sister Lydia turns up crying murder. The story then turns into a whodunit and court room drama as we go on a journey to find out if the rascally Mr Wickham is capable of murder. This may be why I ended up not quite enjoying it. I love thrillers and crime dramas even frothy one’s where Miss Marple-light people end up accidentally solve crimes. However I hate court room dramas even more so when written in the 19th century style and a chunk of this novel covers the actual trial of Wickham.
I think the book in general tries to cover too many genres. It has the style of Austen novels mixed with the crime drama element PD James is famous for but the two don’t mix well. I think the idea of a crime series set in the 18th century could work, an olden days version of Midsummer Murders perhaps but without the back story of the former Miss Bennett especially as she had nothing really to do in the whole story and apart from giving evidence neither did Darcy. I picked up the impression that James was trying to write two separate stories and I would probably enjoyed it more if she had done that – one crime drama based in the time and place of Pemberley following P&P and then a sequel of the lives of the Darcy’s and friends which could include Darcy’s younger sister Georgina. The two together just didn’t work for me.
There is a whole prologue to the book that compacts the whole of Pride & Prejudice into several pages which again serves no purpose other than to introduce the fact that the Darcy’s live in Pemberley something which could have been discussed in one or two opening chapters.
On the plus side, the language is very similar to Austen’s and she manages to keep the personalities and quirks of the original characters of P&P and it does feel nice to pick up where the original book ended to see how our favourite characters have moved on with their lives. Overall I think the book was ok, nothing special but as mentioned may have been better suited to two separate stories.