Death comes to Pemberley by P.D. James (Mystery and Murder in the land of Jane Austen)

Some characters live in our souls well beyond the closing of the final chapters of a book, for many readers over the last two centuries, those characters have been Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy.  The love all all things Austen has spawned entire industries based on her novels, from Austen themed vacations to Bath, on-line clothes and paraphenalia, movie adaptions both period and modern and a great many books that take the characters beyond the original text.  Into the fray and at the grand old age of 92, P.D. James , the author known for her gritty Inspector Dalgliesh novels, has written a charming mystery that captures the spirit of the original story.

On the night before a grand ball at Pemberley,  Lydia Wickham arrives at the door uninvited and in hysterics.  On the coach ride through the woodland road that leads to Pemberley, her beloved Wickham and his friend Captain Denny have plunged out of the carriage and into the trees following an argument.  Shortly thereafter, shots are heard and Lydia panics fearing the worst, then makes the driver rush onto Pemberley to get help.  Despite his feelings, Darcy mounts a rescue party only to find Wickham bent over the body of Captain Denny, drunk and muttering, “I killed him.”

The ripples of  Captain Denny’s death cast a pall over Pemberley and as the inquest moves on onto the trial, the actions and motivations of many familiar characters come into question as does the mystery of why Denny was killed, either by Wickham or someone unknown and who is the mysterious figure seen in the woodland in the days leading up to Denny’s death? For a reader of Austen, a lover of historical fiction or just a mystery buff, “Death comes to Pemberley” makes for an enjoyable read.

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