Author: Baroness P. D. James, 2011.
Genre: Murder Mystery. Historical Fiction.
Other Details: Hardback. 310 pages.
The year is 1803 and Darcy and Elizabeth have been married for six years with two healthy sons now resident in the Pemberley nursery. Elizabeth’s beloved sister Jane and her husband, Bingley, have come to live close by and the ordered and secure life of Pemberley seems unassailable. However, on the eve of their annual Autumn Ball this peace is threatened when a chaise appears, rocking down the path from Pemberley’s woodland. As it pulls up, out tumbles Lydia Wickham, an uninvited guest, screaming that her husband has been murdered.
In this sequel to Pride and Prejudice, P.D. James has drawn on the tradition of the country house murder mystery to spin an entertaining tale that continues the stories of various Austen characters including some cameo appearances from familiar names from her other novels.
It is quite obvious that Baroness James adores Jane Austen and her world and it is perhaps this which caused part of the difficulty as my feeling was that she had been reluctant to take too many risks. Too aware perhaps of Jane's presence looking over her shoulder or of the many Austen purists who would be scrutinizing the text. Also, by its nature a murder mystery is going to be darker than a comedy of manners.
In terms of historical accuracy James was somewhat restricted in her depiction of the investigation as reforms in policing and the law were introduced later in the 19th century. Still, I felt that as an accomplished writer of murder mysteries she quite rightly remained true to the era rather than introducing anachronisms.
Overall, even if not quite the masterpiece I was expecting from some critical reviews, it did provide a pleasant enough distraction while snowed in for a few days this winter.