Review: Death Comes To Pemberley

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James. Random House. 2011. Personal copy. Vacation reads — a non-teen book for your reading pleasure over the holiday weekend.

The Plot: A murder mystery set several years after the events of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. The murder takes place at the Darcy estate, and it’s up to Darcy and assorted friends and family to solve it.

The Good: I have to be honest: I was so looking forward to this book, and was disappointed.

One of the reasons I love fanfiction is because it does things like this: it asks, what if Elizabeth and Darcy had to solve a mystery? And bonus: written by P.D. James! Immediately in my head there were images of Elizabeth and Darcy being an Austen inspired Nick and Nora, or Booth and Bones, or, well, you get the picture.

What happened? Death Comes to Pemberley became the classic case of not being the book I wanted it to be. And, unfortunately for the book, I could not get to the point to read it as the book that it was.

The main characters were not the way I imagined them. After the initial fun of seeing just where James put them in life, I didn’t much care for them. They seemed off, from my memory and my hopes for them. Where Colonel Fitzwilliam ended up disappointed me to the extent I didn’t find it believable. Elizabeth and Darcy didn’t get enough time together; I was in Darcy’s head too much, Elizabeth’s too little. Darcy — well, it seemed like Darcy was patting himself on the back a bit too much for marrying down in marrying Elizabeth.

The historical aspects of the novel were spot on. James wrote in the style of the novel, which while it made sense, didn’t make an easy read. Elizabeth and Darcy have a couple of children, and I liked how that was handled. The murder, or, rather, the death, involves Wickham (of course, because WICKHAM) and I found this version of Wickham perplexing. Or, rather, Darcy and others view of Wickham. Despite Wickhams’ track record, there was a “well of course Wickham cannot be a murderer because he’s not that type of person.” Told over and over. To be fair, I think Darcy’s attitude towards Wickham was time period appropriate. But just because people then had a certain view and prejudice about people doesn’t mean they were right.

While I didn’t like certain aspects of Death Comes to Pemberley, I did like the exploration of criminal law at the time. It was fascinating, especially to this former lawyer. For me, Death Comes to Pemberley worked better as a historical fiction novel about the criminal justice system of the time than as a mystery.

So, why include this if I was disappointed? Well, not all readers were. And I wanted to show that I don’t love everything I read. And you may feel differently. And, because, well, despite not loving the book I’m still intrigued enough to be looking forward to the BBC/PBS miniseries based on the book.

Did you read Death Comes to Pemberley? Am I being too tough on it?

Other reviews: The New York Times; AustenProse; SonderBooks.

4 thoughts on “Review: Death Comes To Pemberley

  1. No. I too was very disappointed. Wrote about it on goodreads ( I listened to it and, at first, was really impressed with her channeling the setting, clothing, activities, etc. However….there is little of Elizabeth and what there is so darn serious — little sense of her humor and wit. And, since I don’t have a law background, unlike you I found the endless court/inquest to be rather tedious. There were some interesting ideas being explored, but it didn’t end up working. Perhaps it will do so better as a mini-series.


    1. so, so little of Elizabeth! Perhaps because at the time this would be the “men’s area, but still. And the resolution, and what was going on — it felt like James was accurately channeling the “truth” of male/female roles as well as socioeconomic prejudices, but to such an extent that the “truths” of that time went unchallenged. Such as Elizabeth’s uninvolvement, that Wickham couldn’t be a murderer just because, etc.


  2. I am a fan of both Austen and James, so I was looking forward to this one, too. And I was disappointed. It was neither as much fun as Austen, nor as engrossing as a James mystery. Not bad, just not up to expectations.


    1. I think part of it is as you say — I went in with heightened expectations. And part of it, really, why so little Elizabeth/Darcy?


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