The genteel act of murder

I wasn't sure whether I was going to read P.D. James' murderous sequel to Pride and Prejudice, Death comes to Pemberley. I'd read some horrendous reviews of it, notably from other bloggers, who are often a pretty intelligent bunch (if I say so myself), and as they usually are getting no benefits from publishers or authors can be relied on to tell the unvarnished truth. And although I've long been a big fan of both P.D. James and Jane Austen, I had issues before I started with D comes to P.

I'm not generally a big fan of sequels to classic novels by other authors, and, perhaps more pertinently, I've not particularly enjoyed any of P.D. James' more recent works. However when I walked into the local library and spotted the novel I couldn't resist it.....

The thing is I really should have resisted it, because it's not very good. It's not very good on so many levels. For a start it doesn't do justice to Jane Austen. If Darcy was starchy in Pride and prejudice he is a cardboard cut-out here, the feisty Elizabeth has vanished into the Pemberley wallpaper, while all your favourite characters from the original have walk-on roles just so that every reader can feel relieved that they have caught up with what's happening in their lives; so the novel has a slightly surreal feel to it. Jane Austen meets Jasper Fford (who would have done this soooo much better).

The only character from the original who comes out well is every woman's (at least mine) favourite bad guy, Wickham, who appears gloriously rakish, and ends up in the Old Bailey on trial for his life.
The novel is often very confusing, James has stuck to what was probably a correct convention for the period, identical christian names for several different characters. Although this may be historically accurate, it didn't help the reader. There were also a few instances where I suspected some anachronisms, although I may be incorrect here.

The crime itself is weak; and P.D. James appears to have committed the ultimate sin for a crime writer, she implicates the suspect so deeply that only a death bed confession is able to exonerate him - although the jury must have been a right bunch of turnip heads to have convicted in the first place on such flimsy evidence. As though that wasn't enough we have cardinal crime no. 2 - the use of some information that the reader could not know, could have no way of knowing, and which is stoutly denied throughout the novel. This truly annoyed me as P.D. James has accused Agatha Christie of bamboozling the reader in this way - to my knowledge as a fairly widely read A.C. fan this is completely unfair, so P.D. James own use of this thoroughly irritated me.

The story was weak, the characterisation was weak, the crime was weak. It was altogether as insipid as a cup of Lady Catherine de Bourgh's Darjeeling. Hugely disappointing. A novel that does justice neither to Austen or James. Read Jane Austen, read early P.D. James, avoid this.


Aarti said…
I completely agree - a thoroughly disappointing book.

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