Have you ever really wanted to like a book, then wound up realizing it wasn’t really worth your time? That’s how I felt after reading Death Comes to Pemberley.
The book is set six years after Darcy and Elizabeth’s marriage, and they are on the brink of throwing the annual autumn ball in honor of Lady Anne (Darcy’s mother). Their lives are peaceful, and it’s clear Georgiana has both matured and is quite taken with the young lawyer friend of the Bingleys, Alveston. (Although Colonel Fitzwilliam ponderously tells Lizzie that he’s interested in Georgiana and expects he’ll be more acceptable. More on this later.) Then, that windy, stormy night, Lydia arrives in a carriage, hysterical. Wickham and Denny went into the woods after an argument, there were gunshots, and neither came out. Darcy rallies the men to head into the woodland, where they find a blood stained Wickham kneeling over the body of his friend. Wickham is taken into custody, but something isn’t right about the scene, and Darcy is determined, whatever his dislike of Wickham, to save him from the noose.
I’ve never read P.D. James before, so I can’t judge how similar this is to her other books. But I have to say, it wasn’t a particularly exciting or intriguing book. Occasionally, I would wonder what would happen, but near the end I just thought “please, end already, so I can say I read it”. (Or, rather, listened to it, as the case may be). What was wrong with this book? Quite a bit, I’d say.
First off, James really didn’t need to recap all of Pride and Prejudice. It’s pretty obvious this book was meant more for Austen fans who have already read the original. Darcy and Lizzie also have serious conversations-on the events of six years previous and their own thoughts and behavior at that time; conversations which you would think had happened during their courtship, when they had learned more of themselves and learned to better understand one another.
Secondly, James takes liberties with some characters that I find rather unnecessary. At the end of Pride and Prejudice, Lizzie and Charlotte are still good friends, and Charlotte is happy for Lizzie’s marriage. James, however, reinterprets everything as Charlotte informing Lady Catherine of Lizzie and Darcy’s possible relationship, and feeling resentment when Lizzie marries him, thinking she is doing it for money as well after being angry at Charlotte for marrying Mr. Collins for money. There is no actual hint of this anywhere in the original novel, so I wonder that James felt the need to write it this way. Another character similarly mistreated is Colonel Fitzwilliam. In the original, Colonel Fitzwilliam is cheerful and sociable, another opposite of Darcy. And while he gently hints to Lizzie that he would have to marry a woman with substantial money, there is no sign that he and Lizzie were particularly serious, nor that he looks down on Lizzie. In this book, Colonel Fitzwilliam’s older brother has died, making him viscount, and his sudden transition into an overly serious, dour, unpleasant person is handwaved as due to this. It also hints that he thinks ill of Darcy for marrying Lizzie, simply because she doesn’t have high connections or much fortune. He is a bit of a snob, and a bit meddling. Again, there is no reason behind why James decided to utterly change his character. A third character somewhat changed is Jane-she apparently turns into Mrs. Isabella Knightley, as she is constantly worrying over her family’s health. How Jane became this, again, is a wonder.
The other problem is that, frankly, the book is dull. We get a recital of the events, a recital of people’s feelings, and a great deal of law and order, but that’s it. There’s even a scene where Darcy, Fitzwilliam, and their lawyer friend Alveston debate about how to change the English court system. It has no bearing on changing the outcome of the plot. It’s just…there. In the middle of a tense scene.
I’ll admit-on occasion we do have some excitement. James did build up quite a bit of tension-feelings of foreboding, wind and storms, tales of a ghost wandering the woods, and a back story of the Darcy family involving a tragic suicide. Perfect for a murder mystery-but without follow through. If I wanted to watch court, I would get cable and watch Judge Mathis shout at people. I wanted an actual detective novel. I wanted to see someone solving a great mystery. This didn’t happen.
I will mention another good point: I did like the shout outs to other novels. We find out Wickham was secretary for Sir Walter Elliott for a time, but Wickham’s flirting with his daughter and Lydia’s flirting with Walter drove them away. And the twist at the end mentions the Knightleys and the Martins, which makes me quite happy.
These little surprises, however, do not make up for the book in whole. I wasn’t expecting a thriller-but I was expecting something other than a legal novel detailing the court processes in Regency England. As Lady Catherine would say,