Monday, August 26, 2013

Death Comes to Pemberley

I have such a backlog of books to write about that I have to issue a fair warning that the next couple of weeks will likely see some really brief posts as well as some combined posts as I try to catch up on what I've been reading in the past month. I don't have to go too far back for today's post about a mystery novel I finished this weekend: Death Comes to Pemberley. Not only was this the first novel I've read by P.D. James, but, after spending years trying to avoid them, it's also one of the first of the myriad of Jane Austen "sequels" that I've read. I remember seeing some decent reviews when this one was first published, but wasn't motivated to pick it up until I saw the news that it's been made into a miniseries that's coming to Masterpiece on PBS next year.

The action of the novel picks up about six years after the end of Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth and Darcy are happily living at Pemberley with their two young sons while Jane and Bingley are settled nearby on an estate of their own. On the eve of the Darcys' annual ball, the festive preparations are shattered by the sudden, unexpected arrival of Lydia and Wickham, who are not formally received at Pemberley. They soon learn that a murder has been committed on the Pemberley grounds and Wickham, of course, is the prime suspect. 

If I had to sum up Death Comes to Pemberley in just one word, it would be tepid. I felt a mild interested in the overall story, but the mystery didn't seem to be very intricately plotted and wasn't suspenseful enough to really capture my attention. It was kind of fun to encounter Austen's characters again, but James actually did a better job of recapturing the minor characters than she did with Elizabeth and Darcy, whose dialogue and thoughts made them seem like bland, diluted versions of themselves. My favorite parts were actually when James ventured outside the boundaries of Pride and Prejudice and brought in characters from Austen's other novels for small cameos, like when it's revealed that Wickham held a temporary job as a secretary for Sir Walter Elliot of Emma fame, and when we learn that the Darcys' housekeeper is related to Mrs. Goddard, who runs the Highbury school that Harriet Smith attended in Emma. If the rest of the plot was as cleverly executed as these little instances, it might have made for a more compelling mystery. 

I'll still be eager to watch the miniseries, if only because I can never resist a British period film.


  1. I hadn't heard about the mini-series - exciting news and something I'll definitely watch!
    I love P.D. James, but this story never appealed to me. I'm not really a fan of the Austen sequels and prequels especially if they are mysteries. I do plan on reading Longbourn by Jo Baker, though. It is a servants' eye view of Pride & Prejudice.

    1. This is the first I've heard about Longbourn, but it sounds really intriguing. Kind of like Upstairs/ Downstairs meets P&P.

  2. I felt the story was more about waiting for the inquest and then the trial than any part on the mystery. I loved the language of the book, but the story really fell flat for me, too!

    Marlene Detierro (Hummer H1 Parts)

    1. You're right, the story was really just waiting for and worrying about the trial. I would have liked to see some of the characters actively set out to solve the mystery of what happened rather than have it revealed the way it was at the end.



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