Kim's Reviews > Death Comes to Pemberley

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
4542979
's review
Dec 22, 11

did not like it
bookshelves: buddy-reads-with-jemidar, one-star-reads, kindle
Read from December 16 to 21, 2011

Oh dear. What were PD James, her agent and her publisher thinking? And more to the point, what was I thinking, deciding to actually spend money on this book?

All I can say is that it seemed like a good idea at the time. I am in what I presume to be the target demographic for this novel: female, passionate about Jane Austen's novels, a long-time reader of crime fiction and a fan of PD James to boot. Indeed, if James' name had not been on the cover, this is a book I would not have contemplated reading, for while I love Austen, I have an instinctive prejudice against the Austen prequel-sequel-continuation-fanfic industry. PD James, I thought, could make this work. She didn't. So what seemed like a good idea turned into a very bad idea indeed.

Where to start? I'll try to come up with something positive to say about the book first. Well .... from time to time, when some of the book's more egregious flaws weren't overwhelming me, the fact that James can write clear and elegant prose actually came through. There are bits of witty dialogue and the occasional worthwhile section of descriptive language. Hmmm.... that's about it for the positives.

As for the negatives, the problem will be to limit myself to just a few of the things I disliked most. I'll start with the disastrous lack of characterisation and the tedious plot. The re-booted Austen characters - Darcy, Elizabeth, Jane, Bingley, Wickham and so on - are flat and diminished. All of the life Austen breathed into them has been sucked out. James' own characters are scarcely more interesting. The plot is dull and for a mystery it's not very mysterious. Sure, there's a dead body, but there's remarkably little detecting and the resolution - which arises from a deus ex machina (view spoiler) falls as flat as the characterisation.

What else? Well, there are some extremely annoying "As you know, Bob" information dumps which made my eyes roll clear to the back of my head. Equally annoying (although I admit it made both me and my husband hoot with laughter) was a section in which Darcy foreshadows changes to the jury system in criminal trials and the introduction of appeals from jury verdicts. I seem to recall another bit of foreshadowing: something about how America was going to become a great nation in which human rights would be protected. (I'm hazy on the details here. That bit came at a point when I was pretty desperate to finish the book). Another thing I hated was the introduction of characters from other Austen novels whose names are randomly woven into the narrative, for what purpose I have no idea. It was unnecessary, clumsy and frankly laughable. I could write a lot more about the problems I have with the novel, but I'll leave that to others. If I keep going I might not know when to stop.

I know from my long experience of reading James' novels that she is a writer of competent police procedurals. But something went very wrong with this experiment. Readers who want to read a Pride and Prejudice continuation will want to at least recognise the characters they know and love. They won't find them in this novel. Readers who want to read a mystery novel will want a puzzle to solve. Their expectations won't be met either.

Admittedly, when I started reading this novel I wasn't convinced that it would appeal to me. That was my prejudice against Austen fanfic speaking. I thought James could be the writer who would lead me to overcome that prejudice - or that at the very least I would get to read an entertaining piece of crime fiction - but that was not to be. This book is a big fail in all departments, only made bearable by the fact that it was a buddy read with my friends Jemidar and Jeannette.

The lesson I have learned from the experience? My aversion to Austen fan fiction is soundly based. If I want to read about Elizabeth and Darcy, I'll re-read Pride and Prejudice. Austen's characters belong in her novels and in my imagination. I really don't want to see them anywhere else.

I thought about giving this book two stars, but I can't. Maybe it deserves 1-1/2 stars for good grammar, well-constructed sentences and no obvious typos. I can't rate it any more highly than that.

ETA: I've just discovered that this book was positively reviewed in The New York Times. I don't agree with the reviewer's assessment, but different perspectives are always worth reading.
193 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Death Comes to Pemberley.
Sign In »

Reading Progress


Comments (showing 1-50 of 151) (151 new)


message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

I have this book now from the library. When do you think you will be reading it?


message 2: by Kim (new) - rated it 1 star

Kim Soon, I hope. I have it on Kindle and Jenny is waiting for it to arrive. She ordered it a while ago, so it should be with her pretty soon. Has it arrived yet, Jenny?


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

Well, I'll keep an eye on the update stream, and pop in, if you don't mind.


message 4: by Kim (new) - rated it 1 star

Kim Jeannette wrote: "Well, I'll keep an eye on the update stream, and pop in, if you don't mind."

That would be great! :)


Jemidar Should be here any day now...fingers crossed.


message 6: by Kim (new) - rated it 1 star

Kim Jemidar wrote: "Should be here any day now...fingers crossed."

Excellent. Shall we mark it down for post-Christmas reading? (Australia Post willing!)


message 7: by [deleted user] (last edited Dec 15, 2011 06:24PM) (new)

Great! I have it for 3 weeks, and will squeeze it in before I start The Count. I go in to this with no knowledge of Sayers, so it will be interesting to see how and if our opinions differ.


Jemidar If it comes today we can start that instead of One Good Turn, if you like. But if it doesn't, then we can slot it in after Christmas :-).


message 9: by Kim (new) - rated it 1 star

Kim Jeannette wrote: "I go in to this with no knowledge of Sayers, so it will be interesting to see how and if our opinions differ."

I'm guessing you mean you have no knowledge of PD James? :)


message 10: by Kim (new) - rated it 1 star

Kim Jemidar wrote: "If it comes today we can start that instead of One Good Turn, if you like. But if it doesn't, then we can slot it in after Christmas :-)."

Either way is fine with me. Both books are on the Kindle.


message 11: by [deleted user] (last edited Dec 15, 2011 06:37PM) (new)

Kim wrote: "Jeannette wrote: "I go in to this with no knowledge of Sayers, so it will be interesting to see how and if our opinions differ."

I'm guessing you mean you have no knowledge of PD James? :)"


Seems to be my day for switching names, doesn't it? Two in one evening; where is my head? Yep, no knowledge of P.D. James, except that she writes mysteries.

I know how Sayers writes!


message 12: by Jemidar (last edited Dec 15, 2011 06:42PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jemidar Kim wrote: "I'm guessing you mean you have no knowledge of PD James? :)"

I haven't read any of her books either (I've watched her on TV though--does that count?) but not because I don't want to or because I think she's bad but because her books are very gritty and deal with difficult subjects. Watching was mostly fine but I don't think I could read them. (Much prefer my serial killers!) That's why I'm so excited about this book because it gives me a chance to read PD James without the downers :-).


message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

See, I didn't even know that much. I don't enjoy the gritty stuff either. That makes the Pemberley book even more interesting.


message 14: by Jemidar (last edited Dec 15, 2011 06:57PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jemidar OOOPs...I think I may have the wrong author after reading some of the blurbs for her books. Sigh...

Now I'm not sure why I've never read any PD James :-(.


message 15: by Kim (new) - rated it 1 star

Kim I haven't read a PD James for a while (mostly because she hasn't written a book in the Adam Dalgliesh series for a while and I suspect there won't be any more in that series) but I've tended to think of her as a police procedural writer and no more gritty and probably a lot less gritty than a lot of modern crime novelists. I certainly don't recall the books being particularly gruesome or graphic, but then it has been a while, so I could be completely wrong about that. Her detective is very cerebral: a published poet, as I recall.


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

Well, it will be very interesting to see how she handles Mr. & Mrs. Darcy, Private Eyes. My hubby has quite a few Dalgliesh novels in German, but I think I'll pass. He can't remember if they were graphic or nor, since it's been over 20 years. He picked up James, looking for a successor to Sayers.


message 17: by Kim (new) - rated it 1 star

Kim Jemidar wrote: "OOOPs...I think I may have the wrong author after reading some of the blurbs for her books. Sigh...

Now I'm not sure why I've never read any PD James :-(."


I've asked Hannah about grittiness, as she's just reviewed a PD James novel. I think that they're standard police procedurals, but I'll allow Hannah to correct me!


message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

She looks like she writes "non-graphic", more cerebral kinds of stories. But you can never be sure with those sweet little old lady types.


message 19: by Jemidar (last edited Dec 15, 2011 07:48PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jemidar Graphic doesn't worry me, it's more the subject matter. I don't mind serial killers because they are fairly indiscriminate. I just can't do family stuff, sexual violence against woman and children, and incest. That's what I meant by difficult subjects.

I think I was thinking of Minette Walters, although I pretty sure I've seen some Dalgliesh on TV.


message 20: by Kim (new) - rated it 1 star

Kim Minute Walters has dealt with some difficult subject matter. I don't think I've ever seen any Dalgliesh television adaptations. (Have seen a couple of Walters). I used to be addicted to those Friday night crime shows on the ABC, but I went off watching them some time ago.


Jemidar I think Dalgliesh has been rerun on one of the Channel 7s quite recently. I haven't caught more than snippets in passing though.

Might have to try James then besides the Pemberley one. At this rate I think I'm going to be spending all next year catching up on various detective series!


message 22: by Susan (new)

Susan I was a little disappointed in this one, to be honest (and I really enjoy James). Normally, her strength is developing the characters and motivations of her various suspects, and that's where I found this novel somewhat lacking, although there's a few very nice turns of phrase. I wish she had settled in and let us get to know the characters better.


Jemidar I can't believe she's 91 and still writing!


message 24: by Kim (new) - rated it 1 star

Kim She can't need the dosh, so she must still have the passion!


Jemidar I must be aiming low because I just hope I'm still continent by then. LOL.


message 26: by Kim (new) - rated it 1 star

Kim Jemidar wrote: "I must be aiming low because I just hope I'm still continent by then. LOL."

You and me both! :D


message 27: by [deleted user] (new)

In the Prologue, James summarizes the plot of P&P. She manages to capture the tone of Austen's narrator, in a gossipy sort of way.


Jemidar I loved the prologue. It was very funny, and as you say complimented Austen's tone well.

I think I'm going to like this one :-).


message 29: by [deleted user] (new)

If she can keep up this tone, it should be enjoyable.


Jemidar Yes. Can't wait for Wickham to be offed but it looks like she is casting Colonal Fitzwilliam as a bad guy and I'm not sure about that.


Jemidar Have you started yet Kim?


message 32: by Kim (new) - rated it 1 star

Kim I'm up to Book 1 Chapter 3 and just about to go to bed to read some more. I've been super-busy today, so I haven't had the chance to look at a book. It will probably be the same story tomorrow. *sigh*


message 33: by Jemidar (last edited Dec 17, 2011 06:43AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jemidar I'd better get reading then. I'm only up to Chapter 2.

When do you leave to go north?


message 34: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm at the same spot as Jemidar, Chapter 2. I am thinking she could have written just a little less back story into the narration; I hope that goes away. She has to assume that most of her readers know P&P.

And, I never like it when the author makes Col. Fitzwilliam a bad guy, either. I'll be busy all day, too, Kim. But, it will be Christmas in one more week! I love Christmas.


Jemidar I'm now up to book 2.

There's a great example of a "As you know Bob..." conversation between Elizabeth and Jane in Book 1, Chapter 2 giving the back story of how the Bingly's met Alverston that really annoyed me. I know it was prefaced with 'remind me again' but Lizzie really would've been familiar with the circumstances.

So far, Lizzie and Darcy are pretty cardboard.


message 36: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm hoping the mystery is good. It does seem that she's telling us a lot, rather than revealing it, but I'm not quite as far along as you are. I also have to be careful not to compare this read to others, because many of these fan-fic books use the same devices (casting Fitzwilliam as the bad guy, Georgiana being courted by the poor guy, etc.).


message 37: by Susan (new)

Susan That conversation made me wince too.

Lizzie seems to have lost a lot of her sparkle in this book.


Jemidar Susan, glad it wasn't just me.

And yes, Lizzie is hardly recognizable, especially when she wonders if she still would've married Darcy if he'd been poor and then admits that a life of poverty was not for her. WTF?!


message 39: by Kim (new) - rated it 1 star

Kim Agreed. The "As you know, Bob" moment was cringeworthy and there was way too much P and P backstory in the first section. I'm still waiting to recognise Elizabeth and Darcy. However, I thought things improved somewhat when there was more dialogue and when Lydia arrived.


message 40: by [deleted user] (new)

I felt like James was rather critical here of Austen: "If this were fiction, could even the most brilliant novelist contrive to make credible so short a period in which pride had been subdued and prejudice overcome?" [...] "Elizabeth knew that she was not formed for the sad contrivances of poverty" Seems like she's saying that Elizabeth married Darcy for money, and not love. That's the only way to explain "why" she accepted him, in that half an hour that they were together at Pemberley.


message 41: by [deleted user] (new)

And, what was with that entire chapter with Bidwell and his family? That was confusing.


message 42: by Kim (new) - rated it 1 star

Kim Oh dear. Chapter 4: another "As you know. Bob" moment. And a character using a well known phrase of Sherlock Holmes (I'm sure James has done this deliberately, but it jars).

I don't have a problem with the stuff about Bidwell, because I presume it will be significant later on. However, I do take issue with the suggestion Lizzy would not have married Darcy had he been poor. That's just wrong!


message 43: by [deleted user] (new)

And, earlier, "what if I (Lizzie) had married Fitzwilliam and missed out on Darcy?" *yikes* I'm sure that will be the lesson, love over fortune, but didn't Jane Austen already write it better?

But, now I am sadly behind, and it's only Saturday afternoon. Off to mail the fudge to Texas!


Jemidar I'm having trouble with Darcy wondering about Lizzie's relationship with Wickham. I thought they settled that a long time ago!


message 45: by [deleted user] (new)

Oh, no! Look what I have to look forward to! I was wondering why Lydia refused to be comforted by Elizabeth. Off to read....


Jemidar Jeannette wrote: "I felt like James was rather critical here of Austen: "If this were fiction, could even the most brilliant novelist contrive to make credible so short a period in which pride had been subdued and p..."

I thought that she was remarking on Austen's brilliance because it was believable. LOL.


Jemidar Jeannette wrote: "And, what was with that entire chapter with Bidwell and his family? That was confusing."

There's something fishy about that baby...

Also, what on earth are they feeding it? Back then if the mother didn't want to feed her baby herself the only alternative was to hire a wet nurse. If you couldn't afford a wet nurse then the baby had to stay with it's mother. There was no bottle feeding!


message 48: by [deleted user] (new)

I took it more as a question: could even a brilliant author contrive to make it believable? that they overcame all their prejudices and fell in love. That is a place in P&P that Austen never really gives much detail to. The letter after the proposal, and Lydia's description of Darcy's efforts to retore her to the family, opens Lizzie's eyes to Darcy's true character. But, so much happens in their hearts and minds, that I think the reader sort of fills in the blanks.

And, James is asking, the way I read it, how is it possible that such obstacles were surmounted? And, Lizzie tells us she never felt the "falling in love" feeling. This is followed with Lizzie not being suited to be poor. So, I felt like James was implying that there was more money and less love involved, if only because they weren't ever really together to fall in love.


message 49: by Jemidar (last edited Dec 17, 2011 06:14PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jemidar I agree about the not falling in love comment. That threw me a bit. And I certainly had a WTF? moment over her not being suited to being poor!

But in the book she did fall in love (not lust like Lydia) and it was believable because it was based on her admiration for Darcy, so he didn't actually have to be there.


message 50: by Kim (new) - rated it 1 star

Kim Jemidar wrote: "But in the book she did fall in love (not lust like Lydia) and it was believable because it was based on her admiration for Darcy, so he didn't actually have to be there. ..."

I agree. The point James is making, I think, is that given how little time Darcy and Elizabeth spent together in the novel between the first proposal and the second proposal, Austen did a brilliant job at making their mutual love so believable.

As for Lizzie and not falling in love, she did fall in love, but not in the same way as a couple who spend a lot of time together do, so she didn't have the feeling of gradually falling in love with someone with whom she had a lot of contact. This is what Lizzie thinks may be happening to Georgiana and Alverston.


« previous 1 3 4
back to top