Best. Gift. Ever. (2011)

It's no coincidence that this year's Best Gift Ever is a book. (As was last year's.) This Christmas, my dear friend and colleague Marie presented me with the following:

P.D. James, widely considered the greatest living mystery author, is second only to Dorothy Sayers in my personal pantheon of mystery greats. Best known for her series featuring Adam Dalgliesh, James' work is literate and complex, but she still tells a darn good story. The same can be said of Jane Austen, whom James calls "overwhelmingly my favorite writer" in an October interview. James, who has made allusions to Persuasion in two of the recent Dalgliesh novels, had long wanted to create a work that incorporates her two passions: Jane Austen and the classic detective novel.

As someone who reveres both writers, the combination of James and Austen is irresistible. What is even better is that I had somehow missed all the press around this book, so when I opened my friend's gift, I let out a giant shriek of surprise and joy. (Even in my geekiest fantasies, I couldn't have come up with P.D. James writing a mystery sequel to Pride and Prejudice.)

I have already sped through the book once, but plan a second read for savoring. Though James' Elizabeth lacks the original character's archness (and most of her wit, sad to say) her Darcy is thoughtful, brooding, and self-aware. James provides him with a rich inner life that accurately reflects Austen's version of her most enigmatic hero, and it makes the reader long for a Lizzie that is worthy of him.

But where James really shines is in her portrayal of the secondary characters, in particular Mr. Bennett, who shows up unannounced at Pemberley just to read in its magnificent library, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who says of herself, "If I went to all the people who would benefit from my advice I would never be at home." Lots of Austen favorites make cameo appearances, and there are sly references to both Persuasion and Emma.

It's a truth universally acknowledged that there can never be enough Jane Austen; what a pleasure to read a sequel from the hands of one who is worthy of her.

♥ ♥ ♥