Yes, that’s right: Now that she’s made her farewells to Adam Dalgliesh (The Private Patient, 2008, etc.), Baroness James has turned to a Jane Austen sequel.
Six years after the marriage that ended Pride and Prejudice, Fitzwilliam Darcy and his wife, the former Elizabeth Bennet, are on the eve of giving their annual Lady Anne’s Ball when their preparations are complicated first by intimations that Darcy’s sister Georgiana is being courted by both her cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam and rising young lawyer Henry Alveston, then by the Colonel’s sudden decision to take his horse for a solitary late-night ride and finally and most disastrously by the unexpected, unwanted arrival of Lizzy’s sister Lydia. Bursting from her coach, Lydia shrieks her fears that her husband, Lt. George Wickham, has been murdered by his friend Capt. Martin Denny, whom he followed into the wood when Denny abruptly insisted on abandoning the coach carrying them to Pemberley. In fact it looks very much the other way around: Denny is the one who’s dead, and Wickham, bending over his body, blurts out that he killed him. Readers of Pride and Prejudice know that Wickham is a thorough scoundrel, but can he really have murdered his only friend? His averrals that he meant only that his quarrel with Denny sent him out into the wood, where he met his death at unknown hands, don’t impress the jurors at the coroner’s inquest or the trial that follows. Most of these developments, cloaked in a pitch-perfect likeness of Austen’s prose, are ceremonious but pedestrian. The final working-out, however, shows all James’ customary ingenuity.
The murder story allows only flashes of Austenian wit, and Lizzy is sadly eclipsed by Darcy. But the stylistic pastiche is remarkably accomplished, and it’s nice to get brief updates on certain cast members of Persuasion and Emma as a bonus.