It is autumn 1803, six years after the events of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth is finally settling into her role as mistress of Pemberley, and is glad to have her sister Jane nearby.
But the evening before the annual Lady Anne ball, the house is thrown into chaos when Lydia Wickham appears on the doorstep of Pemberley, crying hysterically and screaming that her husband has been murdered.
Now it is up to Darcy to discover the identity of the murderer. But is there more at play here than a simple scuffle in the woods?
Not a fan
When I first heard about Death Comes to Pemberley, I was ecstatic; when a copy arrived at my doorstep, I was thrilled; when I start reading, I was excited; the further I read, the more bored I became; and now that I’m done, I’m kind of angry.
Right from the beginning, the style of writing irked me. The characters spoke normally, but the narration felt too modern. There was a lot of unnecessary exposition, especially during the pre-trial and trial scenes.
While I love Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam, I disliked that they were the main characters of James’ novels — mainly because they were written so differently than in Pride and Prejudice. The colonel’s radical change in behavior can, I suppose, be attributed to the death of his brother and his sudden ascent to Viscount. Nevertheless, James portrayed him as being so curt, angry, and deceitful that I couldn’t like him. Darcy, on the other hand, felt as dry as toast.
I wanted this to be a Darcy and Elizabeth book, but alas. While the men are running around solving the mystery, the women are at home…doing nothing, apparently. Writing letters of excuse for cancelling the ball seems to be their main activity. It’s Darcy and Elizabeth’s witty banter that make Pride and Prejudice what it is, and Death Comes to Pemberley had none of that.
There’s a reason that Lydia and Wickham don’t get much page time in Austen’s novel: Lydia’s an irritating creature and Wickham is a cad. I don’t want to read a book that’s focused on those characters.
Death Comes to Pemberley was unexpectedly dark, dull, and slow. The “twist,” while nicely done on the surface, turns out to be nothing more than re-establishing for the zillionth time that Wickham will say and do anything to get into a girl’s knickers. And in the end, I just didn’t care what happened.
The long and short of it
I was way, way disappointed by Death Comes to Pemberley. And I should have known I would be — no one does it better than Austen, as P.D. James says herself in the book’s introduction:
“I owe an apology to the shade of Jane Austen for involving her beloved Elizabeth in the trauma of a murder investigation…No doubt [Austen] would have replied to my apology by saying that, had she wished to dwell on such odious subjects, she would have written this story herself, and done it better.”
And that is the best thought in James’ entire book.
Have you read Death Comes to Pemberley? What about other P.D. James books?
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6 thoughts on “Review: Death Comes to Pemberley”
Oh my freak! Colonel Fitzwilliam, though a minor character, is my FAVORITE Austen male character. Hearing about the changes they made with him pisses me off! I’m glad I had no intention of reading this one and now I never will! Phew! Alright I’m taking deep breaths to calm down.
Yea, if you like the Colonel as he is in Pride and Prejudice, definitely don’t read James’ book. I would, however, recommend a series called Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman by Pamela Aiden. It’s Austen’s novel from Darcy’s perspective, and features the Colonel fairly regularly. 🙂
I’ve heard some bad, bad reviews of this. But I’m still tempted to give it a go. I’m thinking, if I already know it’s going to be a bit crap then I might end up being pleasantly surprised?
This is the first book in a long time where I’ve finished it and thought, “Man, I really wish I hadn’t read that.” It’s nothing like the future I (and many others, apparently) envisioned for some of literature’s greatest characters. I was very, very disappointed.
I agree with your sentiment, though. It’s hard to forget the negative reviews you may have read before picking up a given book; it’s also tempting to think, “Well, I know it’s kind of lame, but maybe there will be some good moments.” Sometimes that’s the case — in this instance…meh. If you do decide to read it, I suggest borrowing a copy instead of spending money on it.
My mother-in-law had essentially the same reaction to this as you did: P.D. James is no Jane Austen. It is for this reason that I have eschewed reading ANY Austen spin-off, though I know there are well-thought-of ones out there. I’m sorry that this book disappointed you, but thank you for saving me the trouble.
I’m lucky in that this is the first genuinely bad Austen spin-off I’ve read (other than Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which I knew would be ridiculous so it doesn’t count); I’ve heard good things about P.D. James, so I hoped it would be decent.
That’s what bloggers are here for: to help each other find great books and avoid the duds. 🙂 Glad I could save you some time/frustration.