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Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James

01/02/2012. Contributed by Sue Davies

Buy Death Comes to Pemberley in the USA - or Buy Death Comes to Pemberley in the UK

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pub: Audio Go/BBC. 10 CDs 612 minute story. Price: CD: GBP12.24 (UK), Download: GBP 9.84 (UK). ISBN: 978-144589-047-0). narrator: Shelia Mitchell.

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When we left Elizabeth she had seen off a plague of zombies and sorted out England in her own sweet way. But that was another book by a genre author and here Elizabeth Darcy has had no such worries. She lives in an eighteenth century free of zombie plagues with only her (zombie-free) husband and two children to consider, lives a practically perfect existence at the wonderful family estate. However in this sequel to Jane Austen’s ‘Pride And Prejudice’, death comes to Pemberley.

It has long been contended by Austen watchers that Elizabeth Bennett could have lived without Darcy were it not for his huge ‘estate’. Local gossips at the start of this book are of this opinion also and they haven’t seen him in a wet shirt.

From the opening précis of what happened in ‘Pride And Prejudice’, we are in a darker country than the sweetness and light and politeness of Austen for here be murder.
The pace is as sedate and thoughtful as the original. Every nuance is investigated and the clues are set out before us to draw our own conclusions about the murder and the murderer. There is little I can tell you about the plot without spoiling how this is played out.

I have not read the book but I confess my reading pace would have been much more frantic than the ten hours it takes here to relate what are 325 pages of novel. Getting past my own appalling reading technique, the presentation of ‘Death Comes To Pemberley’ by Sheila Mitchell, who feels like the embodiment of PD James, is faultless and a pleasure to listen to.

I’m a reader of PD James novels and was intrigued what she could make of the plot and well-loved or loathed characters of ‘Pride And Prejudice’. Austen has enough social malice in it which only needs to be extended a fraction to include violence, even murder. It would never have been a choice of Austen as she preferred the cutting edge of sarcasm rather than the actual cruel blade. But her times were violent and the lifting of the characters into a parallel plot where we can include the musing of the local magistrate, scandal and class is well done. If nothing else it makes you consider how these sorts of people would be able to react in the confines of their class and upbringing. It also brings a lot of historical background in without it showing off as research.

There is a lot of detail packed into the text covering a variety of subjects not least how a murder investigation proceeded in the early 19th century, the criminal courts and how well the silver should be cleaned for a ball.

A cross between ‘Gosford Park’, ‘Downton Abbey’, ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ and ‘Garrow’s Law’, there is something for everyone here including romance among the bloody deeds.
This is not the first novel to plunder the literary past for its own ends and it won’t be the last, so the more the merrier I say and if it impels readers to take up the classics as well then it’s all to the good. Now I wonder when Emma will become the black widow of Hartfield after she bumps off Mr. Knightley for being Mr. Always Right...

Sue Davies

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