Recommended Reading: Death Comes to Pemberley, by P.D. James

A few weeks ago, I cracked open a book that a friend gave me years ago, a “continuation” of Pride and Prejudice. It’d been sitting on the shelf for four years, and, in the midst of spring cleaning, I thought I’d give it a try to decide whether or not to keep it.

Turns out, it was fan fiction. Wait. Make that fan erotica.

It was cringe-worthy, awful, with no sense of the characters’ personalities or voices. So bad that I’m withholding the author’s name. Needless to say, we had a dramatic reading, with friends, of some of the funnier bits. And then the book left our house.

[Sidebar: How does stuff like this get published?]

So let’s agree that I have a healthy skepticism when it comes to “continuations,” and I was prepared to abandon P.D. James’s Death Comes to Pemberley at the first sign of nonsense.

Happily, I knew as soon as I read Ms. James’s modest and charming prefatory note that I wouldn’t find nonsense in her novel, which takes place five or six years after the last events in Pride and Prejudice.

While respecting Jane Austen’s signature style and her literary creations, Ms. James crafts a  novel all her own with excellent period detail (negus, anyone?), new but not out-of-place characters, and a more-than-plausible mystery storyline. Readers expecting a great deal of romance between Darcy and Elizabeth will be disappointed (though there are a few instances of hand-pressing), but there’s plenty to enjoy in Ms. James’s astute speculations about familiar figures like Colonel Fitzwilliam and Charlotte Lucas. Furthermore, be on the lookout for delightful “cameos” by characters form other novels in the Austen universe.

Highly recommended for a spring afternoon, especially if consumed with teacup in hand.

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