Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James
To me, this book shall forever raise the question ‘But what happened to Elizabeth?’ in wailing, disappointed tones.
First things first, this was the first book by P. D. James I’ve read, and I would like to read more of her detective stores. She is quite analytical and matter of fact with her criminal details, like Agatha Christie but with more characterisation. From reading Death at Pemberley, James’ love and care for Austen’s characters is obvious. As an introduction to the book she writes:
No doubt (Austen) would have replied to my apology by saying that, had she wished to dwell on such odious subjects, she would have written the story herself, and done it better.
I wouldn’t ever call Austen melodramatic, but she was good at (particularly in Pride and Prejudice) writing the hysterical characters. This story really could have done with a bit of drama. It was too subdued and matter of fact to really make the reader care. Yes, I was going to read to the end where I would find out who the murderer was, but I didn’t really care who it was. Perhaps this is the nature of trying to write a sequel: If you don’t like what you read, it doesn’t matter because it isn’t the real story anyway. I do, however, think she was spot on with her language. Death at Pemberley is split into six books, for example, which are called; ‘The Day Before the Ball’, ‘The Body in the Woodland’, ‘Police at Pemberley’, ‘The Inquest’, ‘The Trial’ and ‘Gracechurch Street’. P. D. James’ attention to detail made the atmosphere; I liked the parts of the story involving the servants of the house and the day-to-day running of it. The historical details dropped in were interesting… What is almond soup? I also enjoyed reading about early forensic science and post-mortem attempts – seems rather difficult to get your man without CSI style science!
Reading Death Comes to Pemberley as a sequel to Austen’s works, two things made me happy, and one thing was wrong. Firstly I chuckled at Anne Elliot’s cameo. Secondly I thought James was really good at writing Mr. Darcy. She managed to flesh out his back story but maintained the mysterious distance he kept during Pride and Prejudice. So that just leaves my massive MASSIVE problem with Elizabeth. What happened to her spark and independence? Why was it likely she’d become a simpering housewife? And whilst she was ‘good’ in Pride and Prejudice I’m not sure she was so blandly good. I’ve always thought my reasons for liking Elizabeth Bennet were somewhat enigmatic: she must be even more difficult to write.