Review: Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James was literally DOA for me.

It really tears me up when I have to write and unfavorable review, but I do have to call them like I see them, it’s only fair to my reads, fans, and authors.

For me, Death Comes to Pemberley was a flatline. I really wanted to like it but I just could never really get into it which makes me very sad.

With every page that I read I was hoping it would improve but I found it confusing at times and the characters flat. James begins with giving the ‘ridiculous short version’ recap of the original Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice novel which gave me hope because it WAS a comical rendition.

Then the actual story itself starts a few years after the marriage of the Miss Bennets to Bingley and Darcy.

Darcy and Elizabeth are to play hosts for Lady Anne’s ball at Pemberley. While preparing for the ball, Colonel Fitzwilliam approaches Elizabeth to discuss his possible marriage to Darcy’s sister Georgiana. Elizabeth is troubled by this, stating that it is Georgiana’s choice who she should marry.

Will she marry Darcy’s long-time friend (and cousin) Colonel Fitzwilliam, or a lawyer acquaintance of the Bingley’s, Henry Alveston? Elizabeth is a little concerned that Darcy’s friendship will push Georgiana into the wrong relationship.

The evening before the ball, the guests at Pemberley have settled in when a coach tears into the estate…it comes flying through the property like the devil himself is at its heels….the carriage produces a very distraught Lydia Wickham. Lydia is in her characteristic theatrical hysterics as she tumbles out of the coach howling that her husband had been murdered by Captain Denny.

Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Alveston venture into the Pemberley estate property looking for Denny and Wickham. Once again, the Wickhams have brought trouble to the world of Elizabeth and Darcy.

From here the mystery seems to spiral into confusion. Who was the killer? Although there was an investigation and subsequent trial, the actual unraveling of the mystery was a disappointment.

I think what bothered me the most were the characters themselves and the new ‘stories’ created for them. I know there is a lot of debate in the literary world about fan fiction, I for one don’t have a problem with it if the fan fiction is done well. I have read lots of Austen inspired books and most are pretty good but I think it’s important to preserve the integrity of the original characters which I didn’t feel like consistently happened in this book.

Elizabeth and Darcy lacked life and spirit in this book. Darcy came across as spineless, allowing Fitzwilliam to dictate all the actions in the hunt for Wickham, and the following events. Elizabeth seemed to be a dutiful, appropriate wife, with little to recommend her as an interesting character. Though Georgiana is supposed to be a central part to the story, we still don’t really get to know her at all.

The overall point of view was off for me too…very little is written from Elizabeth’s POV….and not to mention the whole novel seems to be one long string of monologues…..ELizabeth’s role is more peripheral. What I did see of the main characters just didn’t ring true. For example….James suggests in a couple places that Elizabeth married Darcy in large part for his money which bothered me because P & P was so NOT about that, it just created a rub right away for me that I just didn’t care for.

I can appreciate the attempt that James made with this book, I know it’s hard to follow in Austen’s footsteps and James should be commended for attempting such an ambition but I simply did not care for the book. I kept reading to give it a fair shot but I was relieved when I was done with it …..never a good sign.

For those who are interested I am particpating in the Great Austen Murder Match up over at Lynne Shepherd’s blog. She is the author of Murder at Mansfield Park and I will be comparing both her book and Death Comes to Pemberley. It should be smashing good fun!

I had high hopes for the book and it was one of my most anticipated books to read in the New Year….not to mention I love the cover and the title was compelling, but sadly the book was clinging to life support.

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James 

  • Kindle Edition, 304 pages
  • Published December 6th 2011 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2011)
  • ASIN B0060AY6FO


Recommendation: 2 out of 5 (disappointing)

Genre: Historic fiction, fan fiction, mystery, Regency era fiction

Memorable lines/quotes: NA

4 thoughts on “Review: Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

  1. I was disappointed in this book too. I couldn’t believe how little the characters, especially Lizzy and Darcy, actually interacted with one another! As you point out, most of the “action” is revealed either through monologues or internal thoughts, and where’s the fun in that? I didn’t hate the re-imagining of Austen’s world and characters, but the mystery angle really felt flat for me.

    1. Yes same here. When I saw it in the store I was thinking it sounded good and was looking forward to reading a fun Austen based mystery but there were just so many things WRONG with not just the characters but the mystery as well. Huge disappointment for me 😦

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