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Death Comes to Pemberley Hardcover – November 1, 2011
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Really, gentle reader, there are limits. When mystery grande dame P. D. James felt the mantle of Jane Austen fall on her shoulders, why didn’t she simply shrug it off? Instead, she has produced a straight-faced mystery—no zombies—in which a murdered body is found on the grounds of Darcy and Elizabeth’s stately home, Pemberley. James places a template of Austen characters and Austen-like language over a traditional mystery plot and even takes on the role of the omniscient Austen narrator herself. The mystery is set in 1803, six years after the wedding of Elizabeth and Darcy, with ample space given to catching us up on the recent doings of the Bennet family. On the mystery side, there’s plenty of action, from the discovery of Captain Denny’s body, through a trial, assorted deceptions and mix-ups, and love affairs. Unfortunately, though, if this is meant as an homage, it’s a pretty weak cup of tea, starting with a greatly diluted version of Austen’s famous “truth universally acknowledged” opening. James’ many fans will be pleased to see any kind of new book from the 91-year-old author, but discriminating Austen devotees are unlikely to appreciate the move from social comedy to murder. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: This late addition to Knopf’s winter list will require some last-minute marketing, but it has two very bankable Englishwomen on its side: Austen and James. --Connie Fletcher --This text refers to the Audio CD Library Binding edition.
#1 INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER"A sparkling curio that will appeal to both Janeites and Jamesites." --"Daily Telegraph"" ""Jane Austen herself would have applauded." --"The Spectator" "A great joint achievement, and a joyous read." --"The Independent"" ""Death Comes to Pemberley is as good as anything P. D. James has written and that is very high praise indeed." --"Sunday Express" "A delight. It reads happily and, as ever in P. D. James's novels, the settings are beautifully and thoroughly imagined, the descriptions and exact. I can't think that it could be better done." --"The Scotsman"" ""Brimming with astute appreciation, inventiveness and narrative zest, Death Comes to Pemberley is an elegantly gauged homage to Austen and an exhilarating tribute to the inexhaustible vitality of James's imagination." --"The Sunday Times" "Of all the other pens to take up where Austen left off, P. D. James's is head and shoulders above the rest." --"Evening Standard"
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The glimpse of Jane and Lizzie's life six years after their marriage is, there's no other way to put it, simply tiresome. In fact, the only excitement that is brought about is attributed to the squanderings of the infamous Mr Wickham. Maybe I didn't get it right but Wickham and Darcy being referred to as brothers just makes me cringe. There are no clever or funny moments in the book and the murder mystery is rather resolved conveniently. I hate that Elizabeth and Darcy have a boring married life. The few things I did like about the book were the imaginative backstories for Wickham and Ms Younge. Also the references to Persuasion and Emma brought a reluctantant smile. I understand that this novel was written out if self indulgence that the author can clearly afford. And as a reader it served as a poor palliative for the longing that I always have for more of Darcy. But for me the Bennets and Darcys and Bingleys and all their acquaintances only convincingly come alive through the pen of Ms Austen.
There just isn't a lot of oomph to this novel. No sense of real mystery involving the murder and not enough character development which one may expect for a celebrated author who has decided to continue a classic story. James appears to devote more time to developing Darcy's character at the expense of Elizabeth's, whose beliefs and observations were the driving force in "Pride and Prejudice." The novel never really takes off and there is no sense of peril which is usually found in James's novels. People who enjoyed "Pride and Prejudice" will probably enjoy this book but people who enjoy PD James will be disappointed.
And I adore P.D. James, as do many readers of Brit-Fic Crime and Mystery novels. I thought that this book was either going to soar, or plunge. But the truth is, it did neither. It was a well-written revisit with old friends; much like the Lord Peter Wimsey we've seen in the last few years. Not extraordinary on their faces; not particularly fabulous mysteries; they survive on the sheer (nearly said whimsy) of visiting with old friends. For that, I thank James. The mystery was viable, albeit not particularly thrilling. In hindsight, I'm not sure that this is a marriage made in heaven. James' style is much, much darker, and her characters far less likeable, generally, than are Austen's well-loved pairs (Darcy and Elizabeth, Bingley and Jane). James' craft, of course, is first-rate...but it just didn't quite get there. I wish I could say I loved it, but I didn't. I would, in all likelihood, re-read it, just to see if, upon closer inspection, I think it's a better book than my first take on it, but usually, a book either wins my heart or doesn't. I'm either glued to it, or not. And while I read this entire book, and was moderately satisfied with it upon completion, it's just not magical.
However, for addicts of P&P, who need to see Darcy and Elizabeth again, who want to know what's happened with all the other characters, it's a decent read. Wait for it to be on sale, and then snuggle into a loveseat for a few hours. Grab some scones and tea. :-) It won't keep you glued to the seat, but as I said, given all the drivel out there trying to attach itself to the Austen name, this is certainly one of the best continuations of the book.