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.