The Norman Transcript

May 10, 2013

Book review: Death Comes to Pemberly falls short

By Amber Hodge
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Book: Death Comes to Pemberly (2012, Vintage, reprint edition)

Author: P.D. James

Why you should read: The work of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” has been taken and reconstructed countless times over the years. Her beloved characters have been re-created in varying styles, with sequels focusing on the love of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy after their marriage, and have even been thrown into the spotlight in the form of zombies. But there is one such genre I never thought I would see crossed with an Austen story: mystery. Known as one of the greatest British crime fiction authors, P.D. James has weaved a familiar tale in to a story of crime and mystery.

Set in 1803, “Pemberly” picks up six years after the marriage of Elizabeth and Darcy. Readers of Austen’s work will see familiar faces such as Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, the ever-irritating sister Lydia and her husband, Mr. Wickham, and many others. On the eve of the annual autumn ball, Lydia arrives screaming that her husband, who has been denied access to the property, has been murdered. A search for Wickham ensues, and he is found in the nearby woods alive. The body of his friend Captain Denny, however, lies dead beside him. Wickham’s drunken mumbling and suspicious bloodstains leave the search group speechless. From there, the story moves on in an attempt to solve the crime. Sadly, despite the unique attempt to re-invent Austen’s characters, the story falls flat.

As a whole, the book is an interesting idea, but comes short of any real accomplishments and the characters aren’t quite as familiar as they should be. While it was nice to see a new take on a classic, and James’ writing is elegant and clear, there was no real pull from the story. And with its simplistic nature, the mystery and reason for the story, is meek at best. Fans of Austen and James might be thrilled to read another spin of Austen’s famous work, but those looking for an actual mystery would be wise to seek out a story better-suited to the genre.