P.D. James pays respect to the fictional world of Jane Austen in “Death Comes to Pemberley,”a historical mystery set in 1803, six years after the conclusion of “Pride and Prejudice.”A prologue outlines the original plot and the history of the family after the marriage of Elizabeth Bennet to Fitzwilliam Darcy. As the action begins, Elizabeth is working on final preparations for the annual ball at Pemberley, the most important social event of the year. The night before the ball, the Darcys and a small party of friends are enjoying after-dinner entertainment when they see a chaise speeding dangerously toward the house. The chaise brings Elizabeth’s sister, Lydia, with news a murder has taken place in the woodlands of Pemberley. This breach in the security of the estate and the suspect’s ties to the Darcys threatens the order of Pemberley, and those who make it their home. Fans will recognize Austen’s ghost, lovingly channeled, in the author’s use of language. The novel stands on its own as a well-crafted combination of historical fiction and mystery. James excels in melding the mystery to its richly-detailed setting, a complex social order in which wealthy landowners and their dependents are bound. The primary conflict of the novel requires the killer be brought to justice to restore the balance at Pemberley. As unexpected events produce unforeseen social obligations, Darcy’s primary obligation is to ensure the security of Pemberley for future generations. This duty is at the heart of Darcy’s actions in the novel. Viewersof the PBS TV series “Downton Abbey” will note a similarity in the theme of social obligations and duty. Ultimately, “Death Comes to Pemberley” is an excellentmystery written by a master of the genre with clues, red herrings and a surprising twist at the end.
By Deanna Street
Readers’ Advisory Librarian, Carmel, Clay Public Library