Sunday, March 6, 2011
In Which Trai Reviews 'The Phantom of Pemberley'
You haven't gotten rid of me just yet; I'm still going! :) My last review for today, and that takes care of the backlog.
The Book: The Phantom of Pemberley: A Pride and Prejudice Murder Mystery
The Author: Regina Jeffers
How I Found It: I'd heard of it through the various Austen-related blogs I follow, but only picked it up on the emphatic recommendation of a friend. Thanks, Tori!
The Review: Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy have been married for just over a year, and their partnership is still going strong. Elizabeth has bonded well with Georgiana Darcy, she and Darcy are more in love than ever, and they've settled into a very comfortable routine when it comes to managing Pemberley.
All of this is upended fairly fast, once strange sightings of a phantom man begin occurring around the premises, and when several unexpected visitors end up housed at Pemberley, unable to leave. Lydia Wickham is coming to visit her sister, and when a horrible snowstorm hits, she invites some of her fellow travelers to come and stay at Pemberley. Elizabeth and Darcy are in a bind and can hardly refuse, and so they end up with an interesting mix of relations and strangers: Lady Catherine, Anne, and Anne's traveling companion Mrs. Jenkinson; Lord Stafford, a viscount and acquaintance of Darcy, and his mistress Cathleen; Mr. Worth, a solicitor with knowledge of George Wickham's destructive behavior; and Mrs. Williams, a naval widow.
So many unexpected guests would be a strain on any hosting pair, but Elizabeth and Darcy are left in an unpleasant situation when accidents and then murders begin to occur at Pemberley. There is a shadow man lurking around the estate, and he has some kind of grudge against Darcy. It could be one of the travelers, or it could be one of the household staff. Either way, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy find themselves with a difficult time ahead: they must race to find the murderer before more lives are lost, even as they struggle to protect their family from treachery.
I ended up liking this one more than I thought I would, even with its occasional flaw. Jeffers did a pretty good job at the characterizations and the pacing of the mystery, and even if the book felt the teensiest bit overlong at times, I don't regret reading it. Any attempt to turn Jane's work into something it never was (i.e., mysteries like this one, monster mashups, erotica) can fall very, very flat, but this one succeeded fairly well.
At 409 pages, I started to feel towards the end like the book could have been trimmed, but Jeffers really did a good job of unfurling the clues very slowly and drawing the reader further into the mystery. I'll admit that I did have (correct) suspicions about who the murderer was all along, but not every reader will guess (indeed, many reviews I can see report surprise at the reveal), and the solution is certainly an interesting one.
There are many things to like here. There's enough romance to satisfy someone interested in that aspect of paraliterature, and the secondary couples, even those comprised of the original characters, still managed to hold my interest. There's some social commentary; we get a glimpse into Stafford and Cathleen's relationship and the societal expectations for people like Stafford and Darcy. There's a mystery in a big sprawling house, deaths caused by different methods each time, and there could even be multiple murderers. The Regency language is fairly accurate for the most part (though there is the occasional modern term like "send him packing" and "all ears").
Whatever small quibbles I had came from the elements I felt were a tad overdone. Fans of the way Lizzy and Darcy's relationship is portrayed in the 2005 adaptation will definitely enjoy this one. There's a lot of... well, it's perfectly clear that Lizzy and Darcy love each other very much. I'm talking four (non-explicit) sex scenes in the first hundred or so pages, and a fair amount of them after that. I'm talking many terms of endearment for each other. I'm talking about fairly liberal quoting from P&P to the original characters who don't know the circumstances of how Lizzy and Darcy met. Yes, a lot of it was sweet, but in moderation. It started grating on me a bit after a while, because while the other characters in the novel didn't know, I'm a Janeite, so is most (if not all) of Jeffers' audience, and I did know, very well.
There are also a few touches in the Lizzy/Darcy relationship that seemed a smidge too modern, as well. I don't quite know if Darcy would compliment the way Lizzy's butt looks in breeches, or if Lizzy would delight in repeatedly saying the word "ass" during a household production of Much Ado About Nothing. Funny? Yes. Period-correct? Maybe not quite.
Despite the occasional slip-up, Jeffers manages the characters well, and we get nice glimpses into the happily-ever-afters (or lack thereof) of Lizzy and Darcy, Georgiana, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Lydia, and Lady Catherine and Anne. The supporting characters all had my attention; I was actually sad when the book ended, because I got pretty attached to one of the supporting characters and would've liked to see how his life turned out beyond this book! There's a lot of subplots stuffed all in one, but they all tie together somehow in a pretty well-paced plot. Overall, I'd recommend it to someone who doesn't mind the occasional false note and would like a really interesting, suspenseful take on the further lives of some beloved characters.