Sunday, January 01, 2012

"Death Comes to Pemberley" as a drive-by

Happy New Year, and, yes, I have been MIA, but reader's outrage has brought me back.  I apologize to those of you who are not interested in Jane Austen fan fiction, but I needed a platform, so here goes.  The latest entry in the "what happens after Elizabeth and Darcy get married" varied collection of writing is P.D. James' Death Comes to Pemberley.  Now I have read many of the other candidates in this pool so I feel that I have some "street cred" to critique this one and let me say that if it had been written by someone without James' reputation as a mystery writer, it never would have seen the light of day.

While not one of my favorite mystery writers, James is a best-selling author whose work sells very well and has been dramatized on the PBS series Mystery--she created detective Adam Dalgliesh. According to an NPR interview with her that I heard, she is also a Jane Austen fan.  That may be, but if you are looking for sparkling, witty dialogue, there is no need to apply here.  Elizabeth is a cipher in the proceedings which focus mainly on Darcy, his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Wickham. As for a mystery, give me Dorothy Sayers or Laurie King any day. Wickham is discovered bloody and crying over the lifeless body of his only friend, Captain Denny.  Oh, he's holding a pistol for good measure, too.  After much time spent detailing the lives of a servant who lives in a cottage in the Pemberley woods, we know where this is headed.  The investigation is hamhanded with lots of obvious mistakes.  (No one thinks to question Lydia and how did Denny and Wickham have a heated argument that she can't know anything about in a coach she was in?)  There is no real detective and the story unfolds more like a treatment than a novel. James can't settle on who is narrating the story. The resolution of the crime is a trite, deux ex machina trick.   The final chapter has more than a faint whiff of the Fitzwilliam Darcy, Esquire triology in its wrapping up of loose ends. ( In canvasing the various reviews of this book, it is apparent that most of these reviewers think that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was the first time someone thought to continue the story of Elizabeth and Darcy!  Really?)

For a mystery with the Jane Austen touch, you cannot beat the brilliant Stephanie Barron and her Jane Austen mysteries. If you are a true Janeite, leave this sleeping dog where it lays.

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