The Phantom of Pemberley

phantomBy Regina Jeffers


Strange things have been happening at Pemberley. Curious sounds, mysterious goings on in nearby Lambton, and a servant that nobody seems to be able to identify. The Darcys are taking it in stride, and have even invited Elizabeth’s sister Lydia to stay with them for a bit. It is only when Lady Catherine appears, bringing along her daughter Anne and Anne’s companion Mrs. Jenkinson, that Darcy and Elizabeth begin to suspect that they made a mistake when inviting Lydia to stay with them. When a spell of bad weather forces Pemberley to play host to several strangers, the mysterious instances increase. It isn’t until a servant is murdered that things start to get serious. Can Darcy and Elizabeth solve the mystery of Pemberley’s Phantom and save their family reputation before it’s too late?

This book was billed as Elizabeth and Darcy as a “husband-and-wife detective team who must solve the mystery at Pemberley and catch the murderer”. So I was ready for some Sherlock-ing. I was disappointed. They are definitely not a “husband and wife detective team”. Darcy tries, and mostly fails, to catch the killer while Elizabeth tries to keep all the guests at Pemberley happy. Which is fine, there’s nothing wrong with her doing that. Just don’t tell me it’s going to be a detective story when it’s not.

This book was ok. It could have been better, but I’ve certainly read worse. The idea of Pemberley being haunted could have been an opportunity for all kinds of gothic goodness. Instead, I found it convoluted and easy to guess what was happening. By midway through the book, I had figured out roughly who the ‘phantom’ was, and from there on in it was a lot less spooky. I think the book’s downfall was showing the perspective of the phantom. If they had left it to spooky things happening, and Darcy and Elizabeth trying to figure things out, it would have been better. It broke the cardinal rule of horror – never show the monster. Once you do, it’s way less scary than the imagination can conjure up. All I can say is, if you don’t want to reader to figure out who the killer is, don’t have chapters from their point of view.

I enjoyed the expansion of Anne’s character. She has almost no personality and hardly any ‘screen time’ in the original so it was nice to see her expanding and starting to stand up to her overbearing mother. However, I found the subplot with her suiters to be somewhat random. That could be its own whole story but instead it gets shoved into the second half of this one, and her suiters aren’t really given too much time to distinguish themselves. They fall in the Wickham camp of seduction for money, and aren’t very interesting. What a waste of a subplot.

I also thought Georgiana’s romance with Col. Fitzwilliam comes out of nowhere. I have changed my stance on the two of them marrying, as you know. At first I thought it was gross and weird but on second thought it would probably be a good match for her. So it’s not that I mind the two of them getting together. It’s just that it happens randomly in the last few chapters of the book, with almost no preamble. It’s called foreshadowing, people! Learn to love it.

It was also nice to see Lydia’s character being expanded a little bit. She’s still herself – spoiled, impulsive, shallow. She doesn’t do a huge 180. But she does grow a little and expand into new areas. However, I thought it was a little improbable that she was tell Lizzy that Wickham had been hitting her, but not tell her about other things, that become crucial to the plot later. You’d think that would be helpful information.

Everyone seems to deal with the murders quite calmly. I guess there’s nothing they can do, trapped in Pemberley by the weather as they are, but I would not be calmly drinking tea right after a member of my party had been poisoned. They call the magistrate extremely late in the game. If it were me, that would be the first thing I would do, never mind the weather. If he’s close by, send someone on horseback. Do whatever it takes but someone has been murdered and you need the authorities. Darcy should have taken the initiative on this but he kind of fails to be the leader of his family here.

I find it extremely irritating when authors lift sections of the original straight on and plop them down into their own story. You get a pass if you’re writing a “from so and so’s point of view” story that takes place during the original and wants to keep the original dialogue, but there’s no need to liberally quote dear Jane all over the place. Clearly I have read P&P, or why would I be reading this? So you’re not going to fool me into thinking you wrote that. Weird quotes too, like the one Mary Bennet says about a woman’s reputation being brittle and beautiful. Why even use that? Just use your own words and it will be fine.

Another thing that really annoys me about these kinds of stories – is it necessary to have Elizabeth and Darcy all over each other all the time? We get that they’re in love, there’s no need for them to be constantly telling each other. I love my husband but we don’t spend minutes every day gushing over each other. They’ve been married for a year, you’d think the over the top honeymoony stuff would be out of their systems by then. Maybe they’re so slow to solve the mystery because they’re too busy mooning over each other and getting distracted?

I thought the ending quite improbable. I won’t say too much about the details to avoid spoilers, but I will say that having an aspect of Pemberley that nobody knew about is very implausible. This has been the Darcy family home for generations. You can’t tell me Darcy didn’t know every inch of it. I also found the ‘twist’ at the end kind of ridiculous. It’s hard to believe the author took the major cop out instead of making it a spooky mystery. It could have used so many amazing gothic conventions, the same kind of conventions that dear Jane herself was lovingly spoofing in Northanger Abbey. Instead it took the sensational route and fell flat on all counts.

If you’re looking for a Pemberley mystery, go with Death Comes to Pemberley instead. That one makes way more sense and is much better written.

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