Review: Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

Published Dec. 6, 2011 by Alfred A. Knopf

292 pages

Genre: mystery/historical fiction

Date finished: Feb. 18, 2018






The year is 1803, and Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet have been married for six years. There are now two handsome and healthy sons in the nursery, Elizabeth’s beloved sister Jane and her husband Bingley live nearby and the orderly world of Pemberley seems unassailable. But all this is threatened when, on the eve of the annual autumn ball, the guests are preparing to retire for the night when a chaise appears, rocking down the path from Pemberley’s wild woodland. As it pulls up, Lydia Wickham – Elizabeth Bennet’s younger, unreliable sister – stumbles out screaming that her husband has been murdered.

My Thoughts:

This review contains spoilers for Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. (But, come on, it’s been out for over 200 years.)

Let’s get this straight: I watched the TV series before I read the book, which really colored how I felt about the book. I’ve never read anything else by P.D. James and I’m not the biggest fan of murder mystery books – I think I realized that more clearly when reading this.

It’s also important to note that I was reading Pride and Prejudice at the same time for class. That certainly made a difference, because the writing style in this book is, I think, meant to be very reminiscent of Austen’s style, but reading both at the same time made it all the more clear that it’s not. Though it was certainly a fair imitation, it simply wasn’t Austen. There were plenty of funny moments, but it didn’t have the same witty spark and it felt like it was lacking something the whole time.

Here’s the things that I liked:

  • The characters! Frankly, I just love all the characters of P&P, so seeing them in any context makes me happy. I thought Darcy was particularly well characterized, especially showing how he’s developed as a character since the events of P&P. And Georgiana was such a delight!
  • The murder mystery itself was interesting – even for me, not a murder mystery lover. I couldn’t help but compare it to how it was handled in the show (which  brought it all together in a more exciting way, in my opinion) but it was undeniably well structured and thought out.
  • The little moments of humor, especially surrounding Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine de Bourgh, in true Austen fashion. For instance, “He [Mr. Collins] began by stating that he could find no words to express his shock and abhorrence, and then proceeded to find a great number, few of them appropriate and none of them helpful.” Classic.
  • There were little references to other Austen novels! I caught a reference to Sir Walter Elliot whose younger daughter recently married a naval captain (Persuasion), and to Mr. and Mrs. Knightley in Highbury (Emma). Very clever, drawing all the different stories together. It made me smile.

Here’s the things that I wasn’t so fond of:

  • Little moments that I just plain disagreed with regarding these characters post-P&P. For example, implying that Elizabeth regrets her brief interest in Colonel Fitzwilliam more than her attraction to Wickham? I don’t buy it.
  • Colonel Fitzwilliam’s characterization as a whole bothered me. In P&P, he was this friendly guy who got along with everyone, but here he was made into a pretty dislikable character. I know it was explained by the fact that his older brother died and he has new responsibilities, but again – I don’t buy it.
  • As I mentioned in my Austen adaptation masterpost, it bothered me how Darcy was more of a central character than Elizabeth. The book alternated between their perspectives, but most of the major action happened through Darcy’s POV. Elizabeth didn’t do much for the plot besides being there to support Darcy, and I feel like any P&P-inspired work that doesn’t center around Elizabeth is missing something. I know I keep comparing it to the show, but there she had a much more central role in solving the mystery.
  • A lot of the action happened “off-screen,” if you will, and we’d just hear about it later through long blocks of dialogue. And often we’d have to hear the same thing multiple times from different characters! All the major revelations happened this way, which didn’t add much to the tension of the story. I don’t know, I think it could have been handled in a way that was more exciting to read.

So basically, this was an interesting murder mystery with characters that I know and love in a setting that feels like home, but for me, it wasn’t exactly what I’d hoped. If you’re looking for a version of this without all the parts that I disliked, go watch the TV series. For once, (I can’t believe I’m saying this) the movie is better than the book.

2 thoughts on “Review: Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

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