I have to be honest...I really enjoyed parts of this book but didn't enjoy other parts. It made it hard to rate internally. I'm also not a purist (or Janeite, in any definition) of the cannon. Most adaptions or derivations might be enjoyable (depending on writing style). I was also keen to see the movie that was made from this book, at least I was at the time.
To be frank, since I'm still unsure how much I liked or disliked the book and I'm not quite keen on the casting...I've left off the movie (sorry!) but P.D. James does have a nice writing style and as deviations go, this book is okay.
I haven't really sold this book have I? This is why I'm never going to be big in the book community (alas) but seriously...if you're not bothered by Pride and Prejudice continuations, this will all be okay. I think.
Title: Death Comes To Pemberley
Author: P.D. James
Page Number: 291 pages
Genre: fiction, historical, mystery
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
A rare meeting of literary genius: P. D. James, long among the most admired mystery writers of our time, draws the characters of Jane Austen’s beloved novel Pride and Prejudice into a tale of murder and emotional mayhem.
It is 1803, six years since Elizabeth and Darcy embarked on their life together at Pemberley, Darcy’s magnificent estate. Their peaceful, orderly world seems almost unassailable. Elizabeth has found her footing as the chatelaine of the great house. They have two fine sons, Fitzwilliam and Charles. Elizabeth’s sister Jane and her husband, Bingley, live nearby; her father visits often; there is optimistic talk about the prospects of marriage for Darcy’s sister Georgiana. And preparations are under way for their much-anticipated annual autumn ball.
Then, on the eve of the ball, the patrician idyll is shattered. A coach careens up the drive carrying Lydia, Elizabeth’s disgraced sister, who with her husband, the very dubious Wickham, has been banned from Pemberley. She stumbles out of the carriage, hysterical, shrieking that Wickham has been murdered. With shocking suddenness, Pemberley is plunged into a frightening mystery.
Inspired by a lifelong passion for Austen, P. D. James masterfully re-creates the world of Pride and Prejudice, electrifying it with the excitement and suspense of a brilliantly crafted crime story, as only she can write it.
In theory, this would be my perfect dream of a book. Murder-mystery set amongst well-developed characters? Yes please! It takes place about six years after the end of Pride and Prejudice (which makes all the actors in the movie way too old but that's not my only gripe. One of the actors is great but I just can't watch them because they are way too distracting and it's all I can focus on.) The main characters are Darcy and Elizabeth (née Bennet) and Lydia and Wickham. There's been a murder in Darcy's neighborhood (involving the Wickhams in some way) and the fall out is mostly his to deal with.
The book is also divided and unlike the original, it focuses more on Darcy and his feelings and thoughts. Which is not bad, it's a less common take than most variations. It's also more complex as Darcy and Wickham have such a long, tormented history that James goes into. There's also a lot of British legal maneuvering (although Darcy removes himself often) which is to be expected. I think my issue (and it's extremely personal and on me) is that I was hoping of more of a Elizabeth (and sometimes Jane) would investigate, eventually roping in Darcy. Hopefully in the manner that's serious but some tones of Austen's wit. I think James takes the more realistic route (via court and Elizabeth staying out of it, as a good rich upper class British woman would during the time). Darcy is also not perfect, which is often the case in many fan-fiction type accounts (so annoying). Basically, James is telling a story about fractured relationships that has a background of a murder.
Many of the critical reviewers (in papers) seemed to like it quite well, even noting that other Austen characters make cameos. I disagree with how clever that is, I often dislike the little 'nod and winks' authors will put in books as it throws me right out of the story. I do like James' prose and verbiage. I'm in for a giddy treat when I read her books as she's quite a wordsmith. One of my favorite finds was a dog-eared copy of one of her books where the previous reader had written (in pencil) definitions to words, explanations of phrases or settings and other random notes. It made the book far more enjoyable. In Death Comes to Pemberley, James writes in a more archaic way, but still inserts her style. I think that's a huge plus (since I was so dismayed by the lack of mystery).
The negative factors for me were the often flat characters (Darcy and Elizabeth had all the chemistry of a soggy cracker) and the deus ex machina solving of the murder near the end of the book. I'm not sure James' fantastic style can save the plot at the end. I would recommend in the sense that P.D. James is a grandmaster at the craft, even evident in this book but note that it's not the first book from her oeuvre I would recommend. This book is a gentle 'Georgian police procedural' with a focus on Darcy.
I fear this review has gone a bit into antipathy but I think this wasn't the book for me (I did not keep it). It's suited to a reader that doesn't want a vicious murder and intensive mystery. It's probably not totally suited to a Jane Austen purist either, which P.D. James does very well compared to most with the language and historical nods, it's hard to compare to the original. Her prose is drier than normal compared to the rest of her works but her style is still evident. I settled on a three star rating, which for me is "Like, but not keep/re-read annually," which is not really a negative. I think I would have preferred it without the characters of Austen...like, she could have just changed their names and backstory a bit and it would have been fine. Probably wouldn't have gotten such a marketing campaign and a movie deal though.
NPR has an excerpt from the book on their website, which might be useful to see if how the prose goes.