Monday, August 06, 2012
Author: P.D. James
Genre: Historical fiction, mystery, spin-off
Publisher: Knopf, 2011
Read for: Fun
It is the evening before the Darcy's annual ball in honor of Mr. Darcy's mother, Anne. Everything is going well, with the Bingleys in the house for a visit and a potential romance in the air for Georgiana -- until someone rides into the estate shouting about gunshots and a wounded man. The main suspect is none other than Darcy's enemy and brother-in-law, Wickham. As the case goes to trial, the question is raised -- who is the murderer, and will the Darcys' reputations forever be besmirched?
I was pretty excited to read Death Comes to Pemberley. Regular readers of this blog know that I really enjoy spin-offs (to an extent -- you won't see a review of 50 Shades of Grey here), as well as Jane Austen. I've actually never read anything that goes beyond the story of Pride and Prejudice -- I've read books with the plot in other settings and time periods, but never any sequels or prequels. I was excited to see what P.D. James would do with the beloved characters created by Jane Austen. However, I found Death Comes to Pemberley to be a weak and slow-paced novel.
The first issue I had was the pacing. The descriptions were interminable and plodding. I enjoy many books that are slowly paced -- I like Jane Austen and the subtleties that exist in the books that she has written. However, the mimicry of her style did not work when not paired with her genius. I think P.D. James did well in imitating the style of Jane Austen, but the content was not up to par, which resulted in a pace that was far too slow.
I also took issue with the characterization. I didn't want to fall into the trap of disliking the story just because the characters were not exactly how I would picture Jane Austen's beloved cast of Pride and Prejudice -- but I must say I didn't think the way they were portrayed was how Jane Austen would have cast them. Elizabeth was mainly in the background, and frankly discusses the fact that Darcy's money was a primary motivation in her marriage to Darcy. She also bemoans the fact that they didn't have a romantic courtship. Really? I appreciate that perhaps P.D. James was trying to do something unique, but I thought these deviations were not in character with the original characters.
I did think the mystery was interesting, although somewhat predictable. I don't read many mysteries, because I think it is hard to find a good balance between a solution that is completely obscure and one that is too predictable, but I think Death Comes to Pemberley did fairly well with this. I also thought that, while some of the characters were not consistent with their inspirations from Pride and Prejudice, Wickham's future was very believable and consistent with his original character. I thought James was insightful into his personality. I also enjoyed the little connections to Jane Austen's other works. I'd never before considered the idea that Austen's characters were contemporaries in different parts of England and that they could have had acquaintances in common.
Overall, while Death Comes to Pemberley had an intriguing premise, the execution was lacking for me. It is clear that P.D. James is a talented writer, but this novel was a miss for me.
Warnings: Some violence, talk of affairs