Top critical review
`It was generally agreed by the female residents of Meryton that Mr and Mrs Bennet of Longbourn had been fortunate ..'
on June 20, 2012
..in the disposal in marriage of four of their five daughters.'
This novel is set in 1803, some years after `Pride and Prejudice' was written, but before publication. It's `Pride and Prejudice' revisited and expanded with hints of `Emma' and `Persuasion', and an overlay of murder. Elizabeth Bennet has married Fitzwilliam Darcy, and is now the mistress of Pemberley. The couple has two sons - Fitzwilliam (nearly 5) and Charles (just 2)
It is the eve of the annual Lady Anne's ball when the tranquillity of the Darcys is shattered. An unexpected carriage careers up the driveway, containing Elizabeth's sister Lydia (the one who eloped with George Wickham) screaming that her husband is dead. A search party is despatched, and finds George Wickham in the woods, drunk, dishevelled, and bloodstained, beside the body of his friend Captain Denny. It looks a lot like George Wickham has murdered Captain Denny (he even admits that it's his fault). But is it? And what's the truth about the mysterious woman seen prowling around the Pemberley woods?
As the obvious suspect, Wickham is hauled off to gaol. Yet Darcy considers him innocent, despite the fact that he has nothing but contempt for Wickkham. After all, Wickham had tried to seduce Darcy's 15 year old sister to try to get her fortune. Elizabeth has her own uncomfortable recollections: she once found Wickham attractive and had temporarily detested Darcy as a consequence.
I'm happy enough to think the worst of George Wickham, and quite enjoyed the various twists in solving the murder case. I liked the portrait of Pemberley and the relative happiness that Elizabeth has achieved, despite the onerous responsibilities associated with running the Pemberley household and her social obligations. I liked, too, the way in which Ms James recreates a version of Jane Austen's early 19th world. But for me, this novel is not a particularly satisfying Austen sequel. And, because of the constraints imposed by the Austen characters and setting, it isn't as effective as a piece of crime fiction as it otherwise might be.
`I have never approved of protracted dying. It is an affectation in the aristocracy; in the lower classes it is merely an excuse for avoiding work.'