Saturday, February 25, 2012

P. D. James - Still the Master!

I've been known to say that if I see one more crazy knock off novel capitalizing on Jane Austen - think vampires - I'll scream. OK, I take it back. P. D. James, my very favorite British mystery writer, has outdone herself with the extremely clever Death Comes to Pemberley. The difference between her copycat Austen and all of the others is, simply, talent!

This remarkable woman, now well into her '90's, and looking fantastic, is still the grand dame of the sophisticated police procedural and her hero, Inspector Adam Dalgliesh, will probably go down in history as one of the most complicated, nuanced police inspectors in literature.

At first I thought that this new novel was very far afield for Ms. James and I even hesitated to check it out. Oh, I'm so glad that I did! Caught by the first sentence, " It was generally agreed by the female residents of Meryton that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet of Longbourn had been fortunate in the disposal in marriage of four of their five daughters." I could not put this novel down. If that literary style sounds familiar, and yes, one must have a working knowledge of Jane Austen to fully appreciate the extraordinary imitation of Austen's language and rhythm, then you will chuckle like I did as the story unfolds.

The years since Pride and Prejudice have passed in loving harmony at Pemberley; Darcy and Elizabeth now the proud parents of two young sons. The evening before the annual Lady Anne's ball, with the house in a flurry of activity, a carriage comes careening out of the woods with the erstwhile Lydia - the sister who had years previously almost ruined the reputation of the Bennnet family when she ran off with Mr. Wickham - crying and screaming that Wickham and his friend Denny disappeared into the woods and that there had been several gunshots.

Since Lydia and Wickham are not "received" at Pemberley due to a despicable act of impropriety on Wickham's part many years earlier involving Darcy's virginal (of course) sister Georgiana, their unexpected arrival causes a flurry among the staff and family. Darcy and his men venture out to the woods to investigate and come upon Wickham, drunk and broken, crying over Denny's bloodied body.

From this moment on James takes us through a standard police procedural except rather than up to the minute forensic tools, we are treated to the 19th century version of investigative and judicial procedure. Who better to walk us through the process than Ms. James who has over thirty years experience with British Civil Services as well as a stint in the Home Office.

This book is a must read for you die hard Pride and Prejudice fans - yes, I know who you are! I can't begin to imagine what Ms. James will tackle next but even Susan Jacoby would admit that this is a woman who breaks the mold when it comes to representing "good" old age. Her genetic lineage must be as impeccable as Darcy's!

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