Reviewed August 27, 2012.
Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2011. 291 pages.
When I heard that a stellar and distinguished British mystery writer was going to tackle a mystery sequel to Pride and Prejudice, I knew I had to read it! I've read a lot of Jane Austen knock-offs and love them, but not all the authors were ones I've heard of before.
I will confess that I'd never read a P. D. James book before this one. I'd long meant to, and saw a movie based on Children of Men, but have never quite gotten around to it. Still, I was surprised when I liked the Pride and Prejudice sequel aspects of this book more than I did the mystery.
Before I criticize, let me say that I loved reading this book. It was a delight, and I recommend it to all other Jane Austen fans. I'm going to point out some ways it wasn't perfect, but it was still very very good and tremendously enjoyable. So please keep that in mind!
I do think I liked it more than Carrie Bebris's Jane Austen sequels. In those, I didn't really appreciate the paranormal element she brought in, and P. D. James did a better job imitating Jane Austen's style. (Though I thoroughly enjoyed Carrie Bebris's books as well.)
I admit I was delighted with her choice of victim and suspect. P. D. James brings back most of the important characters from Pride and Prejudice. The Prologue nicely sets the stage, and fits absolutely well with what Jane Austen said at the end of her book about how her characters' lives continued.
A couple things I would have liked to be different:
Preparations for a ball at Pemberley are interrupted by a murder. Shucks. It would have been fun to get to read about a ball at Pemberley.
Georgiana is considering two suitors, but her choice is settled very easily. Some romance and romantic scenes and misunderstanding and revelation would have been nicely in the spirit of Jane Austen.
My biggest objection is that the mystery was not solved by our main characters. When all has been resolved, Darcy is simply informed of the resolution. Sure, we had some clues and some suspicions, but not really enough to solve the crime, and it ended up pretty much being luck that let the truth come out. I would have liked it much better if Elizabeth had solved the crime, coming up with the crucial information, or, next best, Mr. Darcy.
I also was kind of annoyed by an ending talk between Elizabeth and Darcy. They discussed things that they'd already cleared up at the end of Pride and Prejudice. This was unnecessary.
However, some things I loved:
She really got the spirit of the characters and the society. Without petty tricks like imitating Pride and Prejudice's first line.
She brought back so many characters from the original book. Even Mr. Bennett visits for awhile, just as Jane Austen mentioned he was wont to do.
She made the legal process at that time, with magistrates and the inquest and trial process, very clear and easy to understand.
Most of all, I felt like I was spending time with my beloved characters again. Definitely a treat for fans of Pride and Prejudice!