Death Comes to Pemberly

By P.D. James

I read a very brief mention of this book a couple of days before Christmas, and thought to myself, “I better put a hold on that at the library.” I promptly forgot, of course, but on Christmas Day my wonderful father had bought it for me! I finished Comfort & Joy while on vacation, so was able to crack open Death Comes to Pemberly on the plane ride home.

Basically, Death Comes to Pemberly is an old-fashioned British murder mystery, picking up about 5 years after the end of Pride & Prejudice, centered around the married life of Elizabeth and Darcy. I’m normally a little ambivalent about novels that pick up where other famous novels ended, but a couple of things overcame that for me here: 1) I’m not actually a die-hard fan of Jane Austen, so her writing isn’t as sacrosanct for me as it is for many readers, and 2) P.D. James herself has her own excellent reputation as an author.

I have a vague memory of trying to read some of P.D. James’ other novels before, though I can’t remember which ones, and finding them a bit too…technical is the best word I can come up with, though it isn’t quite right. Anyway, her trying to pick up the style of Jane Austen corrects that for me, softening the prose and the characters, and while she can’t write exactly as Jane Austen does, I think she does a fairly good job of capturing the spirit of the characters. Darcy in particular is a surprisingly sympathetic character, and it is actually really interesting to get his perspective on events.

A not-too-long divergence: I feel like male characters in regency novels, even those written contemporarily, are often inaccessible. I think it is probably an accurate portrayal—that men at that time even more than now were expected to be stoic—but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how very young some of these characters are, and how unsure of themselves they must have been in spite of themselves.

P.D. James actually plays on that a bit, making more overt for modern audiences what Jane Austen might have expected her audience to already know, the responsibilities laid on older sons to carry on family duties at a very young age.

I enjoyed the book so much that I hate to even write a criticism (and I’m not convinced that it is a fault of the book), but an odd occurrence happened enough that I can’t quite overlook it. Several times while reading the book, I would turn the page to continue reading, and have to go back and check that I hadn’t accidentally turned two pages together, that there seemed to be the occasional jump in plot. Now, I should qualify this with mentioning that the entire time I was reading this book, I was recovering from a cold and was pretty well dosed with cold medicine, so I can’t say that I was firing on all cylinders, either.

—Anna

2 comments on “Death Comes to Pemberly

  1. Kinsey says:

    I’ve been wondering about this one. I DO love Jane Austen so much that I worry I won’t be able to handle it, though. Was it an entertaining mystery novel, aside from all the Austen stuff?

    • Anna says:

      I don’t know – it was you I was thinking of when I wrote that Jane Austen wasn’t sacrosanct for me. For me, the Austen stuff was the better part of the novel, seeing a different perspective on the characters. I guess I would say that the mystery wasn’t remarkable in any way; I think the Julia Gray novels have more intriguing mysteries, and in fact, after reading this, I remembered that I wanted to track down the fourth Julia Gray novel.

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