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Death Comes to Pemberley
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..in the disposal in marriage of four of their five daughters.'

This novel is set in 1803, some years after `Pride and Prejudice' was written, but before publication. It's `Pride and Prejudice' revisited and expanded with hints of `Emma' and `Persuasion', and an overlay of murder. Elizabeth Bennet has married Fitzwilliam Darcy, and is now the mistress of Pemberley. The couple has two sons - Fitzwilliam (nearly 5) and Charles (just 2)
It is the eve of the annual Lady Anne's ball when the tranquillity of the Darcys is shattered. An unexpected carriage careers up the driveway, containing Elizabeth's sister Lydia (the one who eloped with George Wickham) screaming that her husband is dead. A search party is despatched, and finds George Wickham in the woods, drunk, dishevelled, and bloodstained, beside the body of his friend Captain Denny. It looks a lot like George Wickham has murdered Captain Denny (he even admits that it's his fault). But is it? And what's the truth about the mysterious woman seen prowling around the Pemberley woods?

As the obvious suspect, Wickham is hauled off to gaol. Yet Darcy considers him innocent, despite the fact that he has nothing but contempt for Wickkham. After all, Wickham had tried to seduce Darcy's 15 year old sister to try to get her fortune. Elizabeth has her own uncomfortable recollections: she once found Wickham attractive and had temporarily detested Darcy as a consequence.

I'm happy enough to think the worst of George Wickham, and quite enjoyed the various twists in solving the murder case. I liked the portrait of Pemberley and the relative happiness that Elizabeth has achieved, despite the onerous responsibilities associated with running the Pemberley household and her social obligations. I liked, too, the way in which Ms James recreates a version of Jane Austen's early 19th world. But for me, this novel is not a particularly satisfying Austen sequel. And, because of the constraints imposed by the Austen characters and setting, it isn't as effective as a piece of crime fiction as it otherwise might be.

`I have never approved of protracted dying. It is an affectation in the aristocracy; in the lower classes it is merely an excuse for avoiding work.'

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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'The familiar and well-loved landscape looked alien, the river winding like molten silver ' mysterious and eerie, where nothing human could ever live or move.' As P.D. James' scenic description suggests, death has indeed come to Pemberley. James' newest murder-mystery resurrects the characters of "Pride and Prejudice": witty, practical Lizzy, arrogant, caring Darcy and dashing, villainous Wickham. Each displays interests, fears and prejudices while pursuing self-satisfying goals and exhibiting a preoccupation with wealth. The supporting cast of servants also features prominently and garners necessary attention.

When Lydia Wickham arrives at Pemberley, uninvited and screaming that her husband has been murdered, an investigation ensues. But the body turns out to be that of Captain Denny, a friend of the incoherent, grief-stricken and alcohol saturated Wickham. Suffice it to say, numerous suspects appear, false leads come up, a court case follows and the guilty party is finally uncovered.

P.D. James told The Daily Telegraph that she wanted to combine her 'two lifelong enthusiasms, namely for writing detective fiction and for the novels of Jane Austen.' At 91, James certainly displays mastery of her material and writes a competent, historically accurate sequel to a beloved classic. Unfortunately, the middle 50% of the book could be summed up in a single paragraph, not quite making up for the excitement of the first and last two sections.
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le 14 juin 2014
I have in paperback all the books written by P.D. James and have loved every one, except this one. It is very well written but the story was just not my "cup of tea".
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le 1 décembre 2014
Not her best. Regretably her last. I could not force myself to finish which for me is telling. She will be missed.
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le 15 janvier 2012
For the most part I enjoyed another look at Elizabeth and Darcy. The story was ok, though it lacks the richness of Austin. There was a glaring flaw when, following vivid description of the rain which poured and soaked the search party one night, the fallen leaves crunched the next morning. Surely they would have been sodden.
I enjoyed the reference to characters in 'Emma'. I enjoyed believing there was a very positive relationship between Mr. (father) Bennett and Darcy.
I am glad to have had my curiousity sated, so I do not regret purchase of the book, but it certainly lacked Austin's organic understanding of the lives of women and of the times.
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"Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good." 3 John 1:11 (NKJV)

Extending Pride and Prejudice, that monumentally subtle masterpiece, would be more than a handful of writers should even think about doing. Adding a murder mystery element to such an extension, perhaps that will have to await for a new Jane Austen to arise.

Baroness James deserves an A for effort, and perhaps some words of caution about trying to do too much . . . but not an audience for this book.

Unless your curiosity has to be quenched, I don't see much advantage to reading Death Comes to Pemberley. The imitation of Jane Austen's style sticks out so much that it feels artificial rather than pleasant. The mystery itself is more of a crime story than a mystery. There's not much realistic chance that you'll figure it all out before it is revealed. When all is revealed, you may feel (as I did) that the crime is a bit thin in its plotting.

Perhaps the most candid thing I can say without spoiling the story is that Elizabeth isn't the fascinating heroine that she is in Pride and Prejudice. Instead, she comes across as Darcy's appendage. Yuck!
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Once in a while I love to read a good mystery novel so Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James was the perfect choice for me.

The book got off to a good start, P.D. James wrote an Author's Note which was amusing and the prologue remind us who was who and where they would fit into the big picture as it related to this novel. I was relaxed and ready to enjoy what was to follow. The first few chapters had attention to detail, dialogue flowed and the storyline was moving well. Then the murder takes place and everything shifts. The book becomes stilted, dialogue is forced and worse she somehow takes the life out of the rich characters so by the end they are one dimensional and boring.

The NY Times' reviewer Charles McGrath wrote 'If the novel has a weakness, oddly, it's the mystery, which by Ms. James's standards is pretty tame and uncomplicated.' Translated it was boring, I felt no eagerness to see what was going to happen next instead found myself reading it in the hope that it would 'pick up'.

James also falls back on what I consider to be a lazy writer's trick of writing scenes which gather certain people in a room so that parts of the story can be revealed en masse. She drops characters who might have added some substance until all we are left with is Darcy rambling on about all his mistakes and how he is going to be a better man and a simpering Elizabeth. Even the revelation of who committed the murder was cliché and left the reader feeling that this was all a waste of time.

P.D. James begins Death Comes to Pemberley by stating that 'if Jane Austen had wanted to dwell in such odious subjects (as murder) she would have written it herself and done it better'; I am not sure that I couldn't have written a worthier book.
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