Latest novel proves 91-year-old author still a contender

It is a treat to find the season has brought a new novel by P.D. James. Her command and use of English put her in a class all by herself, and make her novels a treat to the ear. This is a departure from her celebrated mysteries; no Inspector Dalgleish, no Scotland Yard, but still a body in a Woody Parkland.

Death Comes to Pemberely

By P.D. James

Published by Knopf Canada

It is a treat to find the season has brought a new novel by P.D. James.

Her command and use of English put her in a class all by herself, and make her novels a treat to the ear. This is a departure from her celebrated mysteries; no Inspector Dalgleish, no Scotland Yard, but still a body in a Woody Parkland.

If you are a lover of Jane Austen’s books (the word “fan” is too anemic to use when talking about Jane) then you will recognize “Pemberley” as the estate of Fitzwilliam Darcy and his wife Elizabeth.

Many authors have attempted sequels to Jane Austen’s novels; P.D. James has come very close to the tone and atmosphere of the original. This should not be surprising since she “discovered Jane” at the age of 12 and was immediately smitten.

In the unlikely case that a reader of this book, had not previously read all about the Bennet’s and their five daughters, (nice girls but impecunious, a situation only a good marriage can change,) this author catches-you-up, in the first few pages.

Lydia Bennet had made a hasty marriage, at the tender age of 16 to Lieutenant George Wickham. This unlikely union was a scandal in the countryside, and the Lieutenant was no longer welcome at Pemberley. Lydia, being Elizabeth Darcey’s young sister, was welcome but not encouraged to visit.

When this story opens, the lieutenant, his wife Lydia and a certain Captain Denny are on their way to Pemberley by coach, uninvited.

Georgiana, Darcey’s sister, Mr Alveston, a lawyer, and Colonel Fitzwilliam and the Bingleys, are all guests at Pemberely. Mr. Alveston and the colonel, are both interested romantically in Georgiana. This competition is, of course, managed with the greatest decorum. It is the evening before the ball to which 50 households are invited.

A coach pulls up at the estate with only an hysterical Lydia as it’s passenger. The coachman has had a wild ride, trying to control frantic horses, spooked by their trip through a woody park. It appears that Lieutenant George Wickham and his friend Captain Denny have had an argument resulting in both men leaving the coach in the darkness of the woods. This was followed by the sound of two shots from somewhere in the park. Lydia ordered the coachman to drive on to Pemberley for help. A body is located and taken to Pemberely.

This is Jane Austen (via P.D. James); all must be done in good order. The mere fact of a justice of the peace on the premises, to say nothing of Dr. Obadiah Belcher, the medical advisor called in by the high constable, meant that, of course, the planned ball must be cancelled.

This is a lovely read, and must have been great fun to write. Much is made of the age of P.D. James. She is 91 years old. She is plainly still a great contender in the literary scene.

Peggy Freeman is a freelance writer living in Red Deer.