Death Comes To Pemberley by P D James

I read Death Comes to Pemberley over the weekend and although I thought it was OK I was disappointed. I love Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and I like PD James’s books, so this book should have been just right for me. But maybe it was just the wrong book for me because I have yet to read a sequel/spin-off by a different author that I have enjoyed. They never live up to the original and if this had been written by anyone except P D James I probably wouldn’t even have looked at it.

The book is set in 1803, when Elizabeth and Darcy have been married for six years. It begins with a rather lengthy Prologue in which P D James summarises the events told in Pride and Prejudice and tells what has happened in the intervening years. Eventually the mystery is revealed when Lydia arrives at Pemberley and shrieking hysterically tells how Wickham and Captain Denny had disappeared into the Pemberley woods, shots were fired and she is sure Wickham is dead. In fact it is Denny who is dead and a drunk, and distraught Wickham babbles that he has killed him.

It should have been good, but the characters were flat. Six years of marriage had changed Elizabeth beyond recognition, Darcy was a pale, ineffectual figure and Colonel Fitzwilliam was no longer the likeable character he is in Pride and Prejudice. It’s plodding and repetitive. P D James has done her research into the early 19th century murder investigations but it’s clumsily written as exchanges of conversation between the characters – for example would Darcy, a magistrate really need to be told how the system worked? As for the murder mystery, it just fizzled out with a less than convincing result.

On the plus side there are some good descriptive passages, mainly of the Pemberley Estate and a vignette where Mr Bennet is found by Darcy in his library reading the Edinburgh Review.

My rating: 2/5

I borrowed the book from my local library.

As a result of reading this I’ve now started a re-read of Pride and Prejudice and the first chapter convinces me that my recollection of Jane Austen’s sparkling writing is accurate. I shall never read another spin-off again. It was worth reading Death comes to Pemberley to be reminded of Jane Austen’s brilliance.

9 thoughts on “Death Comes To Pemberley by P D James

  1. Chris and Patty, I’ve read some of the five star reviews on Amazon – were they reading the same book? But there are twice as many one and two stars as there are four and five stars – so I’m not alone.


  2. I’ve just read (and reviewed) Tom-All-Alone’s ‘Bleak House’ which although I liked thought was nothing special.
    I completely agree with you in relation to Colonel Fitzwilliam. I thought it was just me but he is a nice character in the original and I didn’t like him at all in the PD James book. I thought the book OK but the court scenes pretty boring. As you say, not a patch on the original.


  3. It’s interesting to me that the positive reviews I’ve seen have all been published “professional” reviews. The blog reviews have been much less enthusiastic. I have avoided all the Austen sequels and I’m passing on this one as well.


  4. I have to agree with you. It was heavy going and difficult to read. Such a shame – if it had been anybody other than P D James, who has written about Jane Austen so perceptively, I would have passed – I could not recommend it either, but I wish i could.


  5. I have been a P. D. James fan as long as I can remember. This though is the first of her books I do not intend to read. I’m disappointed in her decision to write about Jane Austen characters, like everyone else seems to be doing lately.


  6. I won a copy of this signed by the author but have yet to read it. Spin offs can either work or not. Thanks for the honest review, it might stay on the shelf for a bit longer.

    I have never read any PD James so it would be a first for me anyway.


  7. I picked this up in the bookstore, read a little bit, and then put it down again. Like everyone here, I’ve read mixed reviews – some good, some bad. Because I love Jane Austen so much, I don’t read any of the pastiches, and few of the spin-offs – because no one can write like Jane. As you say, Pemberly at least is letting you revisit the better book now! If nothing else, I will read this just to see how an established writer can still not succeed completely at something. Thanks for the good and honest review, Margaret.


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