A fresh voice reanimates two literary-couples I adore and transports me to Pemberley, an English country estate held close in my heart. Surrounded by delicate female conventions and gallant gentleman, I dine with old friends, bask in burgeoning true-love and witness a murder trial, while becoming acquainted with a wonderful, prolific author, P.D. James.
Released in early December, Death Comes to Pemberley, is the eighteenth mystery ninety-one-year-old James has written. Since, Cover Her Face, her first publication in 1962, James has won a multitude of awards for her creative plot tools, advanced character development and pertinent social-commentary. In 2008, she was also admitted to the International Crime Writing Hall of Fame.
This nostalgic, new read is a sweet, satisfying, English murder mystery revolving around Jane Austen’s infamous lovers from Pride and Prejudice, the Bingleys and the Darcys. With layers of vocabulary, diction and style, this work is not a frivolous dessert. This novel is like a traditional English trifle, sugary, filling and flavorful. The skillfully written escapade illustrates the living quality of language, reveals the role of the modern novel in history, and serves as a gateway book between crime novels and classic fiction.
James does a wonderful job evoking the 1800′s in her in her twenty-first century publication. Austen’s writing mirrors and impishly exaggerates her world, eventually preserving her observations in ways she could have never imagined. Read today, a whimsical record of daily life in 1813 is alien and historical, and the language is odd, social conventions out-dated. Every modern novel will eventually become a piece of history; a motif for a writer resurrecting stories.
To capture the cadence of Austen’s era, James carefully mixes period vocabulary and employs specific speech patterns, transporting readers across the marble floors of the Darcy estate. Imitating Austen, Darcy declares an event an, “invidious situation.” She also spells colorful, colourful, and calls today’s prison warden a turnkey.
Invidious is seldom used today, and certainly not in daily conversation. A person does not call a situation in which we feel manipulated, invidious; we say, calculated, or set-up. This kind of careful word choice evokes a particular time and place, a reminder that modern contrivances and contentions are melting away. As readers move through history via an author’s pages, the language patterns change. This shift reflects both the themes of the book as well as the changes in culture across centuries.
Spelling discrepancies like, colourful, are not only indicative of the time, but also of the English setting. Differences between American English and British English include both spelling and pronunciation. These discrepancies became largely normalized with the publication of the first American English Dictionary in 1828, further declaring independence and difference from Britain.
James effectively uses these differences in the use of vocabulary and diction to maintain a reality in which Kitty Whickham is hysterical in the foyer and two men are lost in the dark, storm-tangled forest. This period mystery, a re-make written in another era’s English, highlights an important truism: the English language is a living creature, constantly evolving
Death Comes to Pemberley encourages me to reach for an old friend, my worn copy of Pride and Prejudice. I also found a copy of Innocent Blood, by P.D. James, circa 1980. Her characters are multidimensional, her story intrigues, yet doesn’t terrify. I have another author to enjoy.
A treat of a mystery, Death Comes to Pemberley, is a connecting point between two genres: English crime novels and classic literature. It is a gateway book for fans of Austen, James, or both. I recommend a good dose of each for a well-rounded book-diet.