The Book Report: “Death Comes to Pemberley,” by P.D. James


Anne Yoskoski, Assistant Life Editor

Jane Austen and a murder mystery: Does a lit fan need anything else?

Elizabeth and Darcy, married for almost six years at the opening of this novel, have made a nice life for themselves. Living on Darcy’s Pemberley estate, the couple has regular visitors who enjoy staying with them. Elizabeth’s father visits regularly, Jane and Bingley (Elizabeth’s sister and brother-in-law) are practically Elizabeth’s neighbors and Darcy’s sister Georgina entertains possible marriage prospects on the grounds.

While preparing for an autumn ball, Elizabeth’s disgraced sister Lydia arrives – even though she has been banned from the estate – screaming that a murder has occurred.

P.D. James mixes classic fiction with modern murder mystery without destroying the original text, which is what I found most impressive. Unlike many modern adaptations there are no supernatural creatures, the language so closely mimics Austen that the reader feels as though she herself is narrating. It therefore becomes a treat for most Austen fans.

The only issue with the novel that I found was that the author attempts not to mimic Austen, but to trump her. Let’s face it; that is impossible. The plot is meticulous and action-packed while still keeping the 1803 charm it inherited from it’s predecessor, but the language and prose are diluted from the magic weave that Austen engulfed readers in.

As a mystery lover and a fan of Austen, I liked the book. The period mystery kept my attention and wasn’t extremely ridiculous. It also gave back story to characters that Austen leaves unattended at the close of her novel.

4/5 stars