Longbourn by Jo Baker
Two hundred years after the publication of Pride and Prejudice, Jo Baker ably retells Jane Austen’s story from the point of view of the servants. Sarah, the housemaid, is the main narrator. She was orphaned as a young girl, and has worked at Longbourn for years, along with Mr. and Mrs. Hill, the butler and cook/housekeeper. Sarah is fond of Mrs. Hill, even though she often scolds Sarah and Polly, the younger maid. When Mr. Bennett hires a footman/groom, James Smith, Sarah is at first suspicious of James, but later falls in love with him. Elizabeth, Jane and the younger Bennett girls come to life, but again from the servants’ points of view. Five young ladies in the house certainly make for a lot of laundry, sewing, and cleaning. Sarah wonders what they can possibly have to complain about, and doesn’t think much of their suitors, especially Wickham, who flirts with young Polly. When Mr. Bingley moves to the area, his handsome footman, Ptolemy Bingley, has Sarah dreaming of life in London. When James Smith suddenly leaves Longbourn, he describes his childhood and experiences in the Napoleonic Wars, while Mrs. Bennett and Sarah try to find him. This was one of the best books I read in 2013, and I recommend it to Anglophiles, historical fiction and Regency romance readers.
Death Comes to Pemberley, by P.D. James
Veteran mystery writer P.D. James, 91, brings the world of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice back to life with a sequel. Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy are happily married, with two young sons, and visit regularly with Jane and Mr. Bingley. Darcy’s sister Georgiana has two suitors, Henry Alveston, a young lawyer, and Col. Fitzwilliam, who is now heir to an earldom.
Preparing for an annual ball at Pemberley, they are startled by the sudden arrival on a stormy night of Lydia Wickham, Jane and Elizabeth’s sister, claiming that her husband is missing, and possibly dead, in the Pemberley woods. Darcy and Elizabeth have a challenging time dealing with the night and its consequences, from cancelling the ball to a murder trial.
Splendid entertainment for mystery and Austen fans.