British,  Crime fiction

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D James

My contemporary literature professor gave me a list of crime writers I had to read and among them was P.D James. Death comes to Pemberley was released one year ago and although I did not rush to the book shop to buy it (I was trying to manage twelve subjects and sleeping five hours a day) my wonderful man gave it to me for Christmas.

From Book Depository:

The year is 1803, and Darcy and Elizabeth have been married for six years. There are now two handsome and healthy sons in the nursery, Elizabeth’s beloved sister Jane and her husband Bingley live nearby and the orderly world of Pemberley seems unassailable. But all this is threatened when, on the eve of the annual autumn ball, the guests are preparing to retire for the night when a chaise appears, rocking down the path from Pemberley’s wild woodland. As it pulls up, Lydia Wickham – Elizabeth’s younger, unreliable sister – stumbles out screaming that her husband has been murdered. Inspired by a lifelong passion for the work of Jane Austen, PD James masterfully recreates the world of Pride and Prejudice, and combines it with the excitement and suspense of a brilliantly-crafted crime story. Death Comes to Pemberley is a distinguished work of fiction, from one of the best-loved, most- read writers of our time.

I guess you are wondering why I am reviewing this book now when I got it eleven months ago: the reason is that it felt like a November reading and I have to say, it was. The dark woods of Pemberley clearly call for a dark, cold evening at home, reading under a blanket with a good cup of tea.

As many of you know, I am not Jane Austen’s biggest fan. The first Austen novel I read was Pride and Prejudice, five years ago, and I struggled as I had never done before with a novel. I did not understand Elizabeth and Darcy and I could not see how they could love each other, it seemed, for me, as a unplausible ending for a story that I never understood to be a love one. So, I was a bit hesitant to pick up Death comes to Pemberley (although I longed to read it), a little afraid that P.D James wanted to pay homage to Austen and the original characters. But she did not. This novel is a deconstruction from a modern point of view of that well-known and loved story. P.D James basically put down what I thought while I read Pride and Prejudice:

“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?”

P.D James also explores the psychology of both Elizabeth and Darcy and how although he was deeply, utterly in love with her, she was the hesitant one. There is this passage when Elizabeth confesses to herself that, had not Darcy been the owner of Pemberley (and offered her such a luxurious and comfortable lifestyle) she may have chosen another man. For die-hard Pride and Prejudice fans, excerpts like this one will be on the verge of blasphemy, but I found they provided the original characters with a psychological depth lost in the original work.

Regarding the crime in the novel, it is very interesting and intelligently weaved together. Every character and their behaviour have a reason and, as the reader approaches the end, will find them justified and pretty logical although they may have not seem so when they first read it. Both Elizabeth and Darcy are directly related and affected by the crime which provides the reader with more introspection and reflection that greatly help to build the characters.

Finally, I would like to say that you do not need to have read Pride and Prejudice to understand Death comes to Pemberley: P.D James provides the reader with a brief but concise summary of Austen’s work at the beginning of her novel which I found very helpful.

I would recommend this novel to anyone looking for a cozy mystery. It is easy to read, extremely well-written and highly addictive (it took me only three evenings to read its 310 pages). It being set on a large, comfortable and luxurious house that functions like a self-sufficient community and where dear Elizabeth sits around, reads, smiles and organises social events also call for a relaxing place to read it, and somehow provides us with a break from our modern, city lives.



  • amanda

    Glad to hear you liked it, given your hesitation over Austen! Actually, it’s probably easier for someone who is so-so on Austen to get into this one than a die-hard fan–if for no other reason that the die-hard might have very specific ideas on interpretation. I don’t think I enjoyed it quite as much as you did, but that may have been as much about time as anything.

    • Elena

      Yes, I completely agree. What I think about P&P is exactly what P.D James thinks (vs. what Austen wrote and left for readers to interpret).

      I tried to comment on your review but comments were disabled. I’m sorry it was a matter of timing more than any other thing for you.

      • amanda

        Yeah, I’d been having trouble with spam on old posts so I’d disabled them for posts–but I’ve re-enabled it now as I haven’t had problems for a while. And don’t worry, I still enjoyed it, just not as much as you did! 🙂

      • Elena

        Ugh, spam always finds its way to blogs…

        I really, really liked it, you are right. I was telling my boyfriend how thankful I was he had bought it, because reading it just made my week better.

  • Rikki

    I will have to get this one, even though I can’t see Pemberley etc. being the incentive Elizabeth needed to fall for Darcy. But after reading your review and being a P&P fan, I must read it anyway.

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