Saturday, April 13, 2013

bookcooker, PD James, and Jane Austen

Posted: 13 Apr 2013  -  bookcooker

I guess it does not make sense to make such a cute little dish for a book with Death in the title, but as spring tries to break through my New England April, I felt compelled to make something pretty and light.  Luckily, a dainty little tart is exactly the kind of thing that would be enjoyed at the fictionally famous great house, Pemberley.  P.D. James' Death Comes to Pemberley borrows the characters from Jane Austen's classic Pride and Prejudice and uses them in a murder mystery.  The novel is set several years after Pride and Prejudice ends, with Elizabeth (formerly) Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy happily married, with children and living at Pemberley, the Darcy family seat. On the eve of the Lady Anne's ball, an annual grand ball that the Darcy family hosts, a man is found dead in the woods on the Pemberley estate.  Of course, if there is trouble, Elizabeth's sister Lydia and her scoundrel husband Wickham are bound to be involved, and Wickham is charged with the murder of his friend Captain Denny.  I have not read any of James' 20 or so previous books - she is a well known and lauded crime writer, who also happens to be in her 90's.   Austen done by a mystery writer? You would expect the book to be clunky and a poor imitation of Austen's wit and style.  The opposite is true, James falls effortlessly into Austen's world, and writes with her wit, but with a simpler more modern writing style.  I found the book charming and engrossing, and I was so happy to have a chance to see what happened to these beloved characters after Austen's story came to a close.  I was, however, a bit stumped as to my dish.  Originally, I was going to make a regency "white soup" that is mentioned in many Austen novels and was mentioned in Death as well - it is a weird soup made with almonds, stale bread, beef stock and sometimes eggs.  I bought white bread twice for this, and never got to the soup before it went moldy.  So when I saw a picture of a cheerful lemon tart on Serious Eats, I decided that would be my dish for Death Comes to Pemberley, since it is the type of tart the Darcy's would have served at their ball or at tea.  With this much sunshine on a plate, hopefully the Boston weather will turn towards spring soon too.


Six years after Jane Austen leaves off in Pride and Prejudice, P.D. James picks up with the continued story of Elizabeth and Darcy.  Thankfully, they are happily married with two sons, and living close by to Elizabeth's beloved sister Jane and her husband Bingley. Elizabeth has taken well to life running a well off estate and is most assuredly content as she readies for an annual Pemberley tradition - the Lady Anne ball.   All is going to plan until her flighty sister Lydia turns up, uninvited, and in a hysterical state.  Thinking that she would "surprise" her sister by coming to the ball, Lydia, her husband Wickham and their friend Captain Denny were on their way to Pemberley, when in some sort of an argument, Wickham and Denny leave the carriage and wander into the rumored to be haunted Pemberley woods.  When Lydia arrives at Pemberley she is certain that her husband, Wickham, is dead because she heard gunshots in the woods.  Readers (or watchers) of Pride and Prejudice know that Wickham is a handsome lout, who Elizabeth was once in love with and who tried to elope with Darcy's innocent younger sister Georgiana.  Darcy banned him from Pemberley, so Lydia's arrival was quite a shock.  It is soon discovered that alas Wickham is not dead but Captain Denny is, and in classic crime fiction fashion, makes an ambiguous confession at the scene.  Wickham is arrested, and Darcy and Elizabeth must handle the unthinkable, a murder investigation on their beautiful estate.  Once Wickham was arrested and the local magistrate brought in to investigate, I was expecting a suspenseful whodunit type of novel, full of twists and turns.  As it turns out, the "who killed Denny" mystery was solved in rather anticlimactic way during Wickham's trial.  The mystery was an excuse for writing the book, but the real heart of the book is James' s continuation of the Pemberley story, her subtle but convincing Austenian writing style, and her brilliant fleshing out of Austen's characters from a more modern perspective.  It was a pleasure to spend some more time with Darcy and Elizabeth after the melodrama of their engagement and see how they settle into life together.  For any Austen fan, this book is a fun must..

More at bookcooker, including the recipe for Meyer Lemon Tart.

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