Those of you who follow my blog and my reviews will know I fell in love with a collection of stories about some of the characters in Jane Austen’s novels and was determined to read more books by the authors. Here comes another one. And it’s a joy.
The Elizabeth Papers by Jenetta James
“It is settled between us already, that we are to be the happiest couple in the world,” said Elizabeth Bennet at the conclusion of Pride & Prejudice–but was it true?
Charlie Haywood is a London-based private investigator who has made his own fortune–on his own terms. Charming, cynical, and promiscuous, he never expected to be attracted to Evie Pemberton, an independent-minded artist living with the aftermath of tragedy. But when he is hired to investigate her claims to a one hundred fifty-year-old trust belonging to the eminent Darcy family, he is captivated.
Together they become entwined in a Regency tale of love, loss, and mystery tracing back to the grand estate of Pemberley, home to Evie’s nineteenth-century ancestors, Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy. As if travelling back in time, another story unfolds within theirs. All was not as it seemed in the private lives of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, but how can they ever uncover the whole truth?
How could they know that in 1817 Elizabeth Darcy began a secret journal? What started as an account of a blissful life came to reflect a growing unease. Was the Darcy marriage perfect, or was there betrayal and deception at its heart?
Can Evie and Charlie unearth the truth in the letters of Fitzwilliam Darcy or within the walls of present-day Pemberley? What are the elusive “Elizabeth papers,” and why did Elizabeth herself want them destroyed?
The Elizabeth Papers is a tale of romance and intrigue, spanning the Regency and modern eras, reminding us how the passions of the past may inspire those in the present.
Awards for The Elizabeth Papers
Winner #RBRT 2016 Book Awards for Historical Fiction – Rosie Amber Book Reviews
Favourite JAFF Time Shift Story 2016 – JustJane1813
Favourite Read 2016 – Babblings of a Bookworm
Austenesque Reviews’ Favourite 2016 – Austenesque Reviews
Reader’s Choice 2016 – Austenesque Reviews
Favourite Book 2016 – From Pemberley to Milton
Favourite Book 2016 – Diary of an Eccentric
Praise for The Elizabeth Papers
“a novel that will appeal to fans of Jane Austen and romantic mysteries” – Publishers Weekly
“cleverly constructed and supremely suspenseful … An unusual and gripping page-turner” – Jocelyn Bury in Jane Austen Regency Magazine
“I loved the concept and … dual storyline – it had a perfect balance of intrigue poignancy and possibility … Jenetta James crafted a compelling and remarkable story that cannot help but enchant readers! Written with reverence towards Jane Austen’s characters and filled with vibrant settings in brilliant detail, this genuine and unique romantic mystery is one I emphatically recommend” – Austenesque Reviews
“It will definitely be on my Best of 2016 list and is easily one of the best Pride and Prejudice inspired novels I have ever read.” ~Diary of an Eccentric
“…poignant, stirring and beautifully crafted…” ~Just Jane 1813
“…written so touchingly that it made me cry!” ~Babblings of a Bookworm
“It’s the best Jane Austen Fan Fiction I’ve read in quite some time, and truly stands apart with its quality writing.” ~Calico Critic
“The suspense keeps you glued to the pages but the romance in this book makes you swoon! I still can’t get over the originality of it all and how much I adored it!” ~Margie’s Must Reads
“…real nailbiter for Darcy and Lizzy fans.” ~Delighted Reader
About the author:
Jenetta James is a lawyer, writer, mother, and taker-on of too much. She grew up in Cambridge and read history at Oxford University where she was a scholar and president of the Oxford University History Society. After graduating, she took to the law and now practises full time as a barrister. Over the years she has lived in France, Hungary, and Trinidad as well as her native England. Jenetta currently lives in London with her husband and children where she enjoys reading, laughing and playing with Lego. She is the author of “Suddenly Mrs. Darcy” and “The Elizabeth Papers”.
I was introduced to the work of this author via a collection of stories called Dangerous to Know: Janes Austen’s Rakes & Gentlemen Rogues Ed. by Christina Boyd, which I loved (you can check my review here), and had also read a number of reviews of this novel, as it had won the Rosie’s Book Team Review award for historical fiction 2016, and I am a member of the group but hadn’t read it at the time. When the editor of the collection offered to put me in touch with some of the authors featured, I jumped at the opportunity and was lucky enough that Ms. James offered me an ARC copy of her book.
I’ve seen this book defined as a ‘sequel’ of Pride and Prejudice, and I guess in some way it is, as it follows on from the events on that novel, and we get to revisit quite a few of the characters in the previous one (especially Elizabeth Darcy, née Bennett, Fitzwilliam Darcy, and their family, although also Elizabeth’s sisters, mother, and Darcy’s sister Georgiana, and his friends and relatives). The story goes beyond that, moving across several generations, and the storyline is divided into two timelines, one in the Regency period (in the 1820s) and one much more recent, 2014. In the present time, we meet Evie, a young painter preparing her first exhibition and coping as best she can with a tragic family situation, and Charlie, a private detective, handsome, charming (yes, he would have fitted into the role of a rogue if he was a character in the other timeframe), and unencumbered by concerns about morality, who is asked to dig into a possible irregularity in the terms of a trust fund set up a couple of centuries ago. The case sounds like a wild-goose chase, but Charlie is intrigued, at first by the case, and later by Evie.
The author alternates chapters that share Elizabeth’s diary, written in the first person (and some of Darcy’s ‘official’ letters), with chapters set up in the present, from Evie’s and Charlie’s points of view, but written in the third person (there are some later chapters from other minor character’s point of view, that help round the story up and give us a larger perspective). This works well because readers of Pride and Prejudice (and, in my case, it’s my favourite Jane Austen’s novel) will already be familiar with the characters and will jump right into the thoughts and feelings of Elizabeth. I felt as if I had stepped back into the story, and although the events are new (as they happen after the couple has been married for a few years); I felt they fitted in perfectly with the rest of the narrative, and the characters were consistent and totally believable. Yes, they love each other. Yes, Darcy is still proud and headstrong at times. Elizabeth is aware of her family’s shortcomings and wonders at times why her husband puts up with her relations. She also doubts herself and can be annoyed at what she perceives as Darcy’s lack of communication. With all their humanity and their imperfections, they feel so true to the characters Austen created that they could have come out of her pen.
The modern part of the story provides a good reflection on how things have changed for the family, the house, and society in general. It also allows us to think about family, legacy, and heritage. How many family secrets have been buried over the years! While the characters have only a few traces and clues to follow, the readers have the advantage of accessing Elizabeth’s diary, but the truth is not revealed until very late in the novel (although I suspect most of us would have guessed, at least the nature of the truth, if not the details), and however convinced we might be that we are right, can one ever be sure about the past?
The writing is perfectly adapted to the style of the era, not jarring at all, and the historical detail of the period is well observed and seamlessly incorporated into the story (rather than shoehorned in to show the extent of the author’s research). The author’s observational skills are also put to great use in the modern story, and create a vivid and vibrant cast and background for the events. The pace and rhythm of the novel alternate between the contemplative moments of the characters, in the past and the present (emotions run high and characters question their behaviour and feelings), and the excitement of the search for clues and the discovery of new documents and evidence. The settings are brought to life by the author, and I particularly enjoyed visiting London with the modern day characters. Although there are love and romance, there are no explicit sex scenes, and, in my opinion, the book is all the better for it.
A couple of lines I highlighted:
To know him so well and still to be touched by him in darkness and light is surely the greatest fortune of all.
While fans of Austen will, no doubt, enjoy the parts set in the XIX century, the modern section of the novel is an attractive mystery/romance in its own right. I am not a big fan of love-at-first-sight stories, and I must warn you that there is some of that here, at least for Charlie, who is mesmerised by Edie from the very first time he meets her, but he does not have the same effect on her. In fact, he has information about her already (it is not a situation of love is blind), and he is taken by surprise as she is not what he expected. As we learn more about both of their stories, it is easy to see why he would feel attracted to her and her circumstances, as they are quite similar to his own. He was pushed into a business of dubious morality to help his family, and she has also had to cope with family tragedy, but in her case, she had the advantage of the Darcy Trust Fund. They are not copycats of Darcy and Elizabeth, but they complement each other well and bring out the best in each other. The rest of the characters in the modern era don’t play big roles but they are endowed with individual touches that make them relatable and distinctive.
The ending is left to the observation of one of the minor characters, allowing for readers to use their imagination rather than elaborate the point.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel that is beautifully written, with compelling characters (I fell in love with Elizabeth and Darcy once again) and a joy for any of Austen’s fans. I don’t think it is necessary to be a connoisseur of Pride and Prejudice to enjoy this novel (as most people are bound to have seen, at least, an adaptation of the story, and there are references to the main plot points scattered throughout the book) but my guess is that many people who read it will go back and read Austen again. And will look forward to more of James’s books. I surely will.
(Ah, the book has a series of questions and answers at the end that makes it an eminently suitable read for book clubs).
Thanks to Christina Boyd, to the author, to Rosie, and most of all, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW! Ah, and, of course! Thanks to Jane Austen!