31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 6 March 2012
I am sorry this has been my introduction to PD James, an author I have heard highly spoken of. I rarely write reviews, but felt I had to put this down.
This book was truly awful, and it is hard to believe it would have been published if not for the successful authors name attached.
There is no character development at all, in fact the characters are as two dimensional as a photograph. None of the wit and sparkle one gets in the original Austen, but no suspense or drama worth speaking of on the crime writing side either.
If this had been a young writers first attempt, I would have said well done, and maybe in a few years with a lot of work you will amount to something.
To be honest it reads like a set of notes on which one might develop a novel; as if the writer roughly sketched some story ideas, and then could not be bothered to actually turn it into a novel.
Waste your money on it if you want, but I wouldn't bother if I were you.
160 of 172 people found the following review helpful
on 6 November 2011
Should one's admiration and respect for a highly successful author lead one to turn a blind eye to a disaster (cf Agatha Christie's Postern Gate)? Surely not, since if these Amazon reviews have any purpose, it is surely to offer advice to would-be purchasers.
In this case my advice is clear: don't!
Re-read 'Cover Her Face' instead.
To write a thriller in the style of Jane Austen is about as useful an enterprise as telling the story of the Eurozone troubles in the style of Beatrix Potter. But knowing and enjoying PD James' earliest books, and sharing her love of Austen, I was very hopeful. As it happens, PD James abandons Austen-speak immediately after the Prologue and never recovers it, illustrating perhaps the imperishable brilliance of the original.
The result is a very dull and predictable story of detection with white soup and crinolines, hamstrung by the presence of so many characters above suspicion: the murderer therefore being signposted from early on.
I kept hoping for the appearance of some passing Lakeland poet, one Master Ebenezer Dalgliesh, to rattle the Pemberley shades. No such luck. It made me sad.
I can see from the Publishers' point of view that when a fine and profitable author sets off on an unexpected route, they may have little choice other than to follow and try to make it work. But in that case, why no proper copy-editing, which would have removed the several absurd repetitions and, for example, the strange situation on p81 when Darcy is placed in 2 separate parts of the house - at the same time?
The interpolation of characters from Emma and Persuasion was particularly ill-judged.
Let's hope we may escape 'The Massacre at Mansfield Park'.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 7 March 2012
It grieves me to say it, but I have rarely been more disappointed by a novel than I was by P D James' Death Comes to Pemberley. It was massively publicised and from an accomplished author of crime fiction - and as both a lover of Jane Austen and an admirer of P D James, I was looking forward to having my view of Pemberley broadened, as it were, by some modern fan-fiction. But it was not to be. I was barely ten pages in before I began to be bored; and had I been James' editor I would have taken a scalpel instantly to the first chapter (prologue) of exposition. Surely it is not necessary to retell the events of Pride and Prejudice to her readership? After all, not only is the book one of the best-known in literature, but there has been a recent film and a BBC adaptation: surely people can be assumed to be familiar with the story and its characters? Though the prologue adds a little more to the original, it is a tedious beginning to what I had hoped would be a thrilling read. No matter - it was a prologue after all: I determined to let it go and start afresh at Chapter 1.
Alas. Chapter 1 - and succeeding chapters - included so much reportage, not only in the way of new characters but continually reminding us - as if we needed reminding - of the original story, that I almost gave up on it. The historical background is laboured, far too many new characters are put in with long asides about their history; in fact so much information is given that I felt as if the book were written by Mr Collins (and not Wilkie) rather than one of our foremost crime writers. Once the murder is committed James gets into her stride, but, rather like a lame horse, almost immediately gets out of it again. It seems astonishing that such an accomplished writer should need reminding of the old adage `show don't tell', but so it is. On every page more things are told - and at length - than I could possibly recall; more characters are introduced, more background is added, more self-conscious references are made to Mary Wollstonecraft and other figures of the period: more and more is thrown at us, and more - to reverse the adage - is most definitely less. I do not require a history lesson; I wish to be engaged and entertained, to be puzzled and perplexed - and in order for any of this to happen, I need not to be lectured and to care about the characters.
And there's the rub - the characters. I had looked forward to seeing Elizabeth and Darcy amplified; I saw them flattened. None of Elizabeth's wit; none of Darcy's generosity and kindly behaviour towards his staff; none of their love for each other came through these pages. Instead there were more acres of detail than must have existed in the whole grounds of Pemberley: detail about the servants and their families, about who lived where and did what; about who their fathers had been, about what used to happen in a court of law - and all told, almost never shown. To be fair, when the story does get into its stride it becomes compelling, but that stride is rarely sustained for more than a page or two. We hardly care about the murdered man - an officer called Denny - because we don't know him: even in P&P he is only referred to a few times, and very little is added to that in Death Comes to Pemberley. Even those characters we do know well, such as Lydia and Wickham, are not seen so much as discussed, and all in all the characters are pale shadows of their Austinian selves.
To be fair, James has given herself an impossible task here. It is impossible to improve on Austen's style, and hard enough to imitate it. When James is most at home, telling a crime story, she settles back comfortably into her own style, so that the book, whilst being more readable, fails - in terms of imitation - the most where it most succeeds. But I could forgive her that if she hadn't tried to do so much more: to retell Pride and Prejudice, to give us a history lesson, to explain everything in exhaustive detail - and, worst of all, to try to tie in other Austen novels to this narrative. Walter Elliot of Kellynch Hall and his daughter Anne are referred to early on (Persuasion); other characters from other books are brought in - and by the time she mentions Mr Knightley of Donwell Abbey I am begging her to stop.
I am sorry to have to slate a book so thoroughly. If I hadn't found it so tedious I might give it another try, but at the moment I can't bring myself to do it.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 27 July 2012
And yet I have many to add to the general damnation of this novel. Being a massive Jane Austen fan and former student of her work, I did not approach this book expecting a replication of Austen's style but with an interest in seeing some of the most famous characters of all time being thrown into a Whodunnit. The best bit about the book was the letter from Lady Catherine. Perhaps had James put more effort into getting the rest of the characters right, the Murder Mystery would have been easier for her to write. Austen wrote about what she knew- never are men seen talking alone, servants and ordinary folk are not detailed. P D James didn't have to invent a whole host of new characters. She already had a glittering cast . The set up was brilliant. Lydia arrives screaming that her husband , the naughty Wickham, has been murdered. 'Fantastic!' thought and my mind began racing. Whodunnit? A jealous and frustrated Lydia, or maybe Darcy had been driven to it. Fitzwilliam is here- maybe there was a dark secret between them. Even maybe that freckled girl he led on in the last book or the mysterious Mrs Young... Instead it appears that the author then poured herself a nice cup of tea and let her great grandchildren each take a turn in writing a chapter. £50 to the one of you who makes the least gaffs.....
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 23 November 2011
"In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed..."
It was with great anticipation that I opened my copy of "Death Comes to Pemberley", PD James' new historical mystery/Jane Austen pastiche, set six years after the conclusion of "Pride and Prejudice". I fully expected to love it, I really wanted to love it, but by the time I was half way through, I realised to my dismay that not only had I lost any interest whatsoever in whodunit and why, but for two pins I could have happily murdered most of the characters myself for being so unforgivably tiresome.
What can I say? I love the work of both Austen and PD James, and thought this would be a marriage made in heaven, but while "Death Comes to Pemberley" is a worthy stylistic achievement and psychological study, oh dear, it's dull, dull, dull!
Although James captures Austen's gently ironical tone beautifully, it lacks animation; unfortunately she fails to emulate Austen's lively banter and sparkling, incisive wit, or her graceful sense of comedic timing. It would be unreasonable to expect a frenetic pace in a story set at a Georgian country estate and based around leisurely day-to-day domestic arrangements. However, the pace of James' stolid narrative could at best be called stately, at worst glacial. Sheer tedium is all too soon exposed as the real killer of this murder mystery, and quite possibly, rendering both Darcy and Elizabeth boring its true crime.
153 of 167 people found the following review helpful
on 20 January 2012
I imagined "Death Comes to Pemberley" was going to be a cosy read for myself and Madame Gersbach to saunter through over Christmas. Here we have an "acclaimed" writer taking the characters from a wonderful Austen novel and playing about with them in a crime story. I didn't expect anything comparable to the real thing in terms of quality of prose or effortless wit but I did expect something light and amusing with an intriguing and entertaining plot.
Oh,how wrong can a poor boy be!
After an amusing and breezy prologue which introduced the main protagonists and filled in the interim between Austen's conclusion and James' commencement, the book hit the buffers.From the start,Darcy and Elizabeth were transformed into a cross between the Oxo Couple (Katy and Phillip?)and the Glums,Darcy having lost most of his haughty confidence and Elizabeth her feisty wit.The Pemberley they are given here had curiously been translated into an early nineteenth century version of "Downton Abbey" where servants held the stage alongside their crushingly boring employers in a way that I can't remember them doing in any of the Austen that I've read.The "crime" element is feeble where it isn't farcical.From time to time,the author also treats us to lectures on various aspects of the society of the time which suggest both a low opinion of the knowledge of her readers and a lack of skill in historical scene-setting.Somehow Austen managed to give us all we need to know about her world without getting out the history books and hitting us over the head with them.
In short,"Death at Pemberley" could most charitably be described as a damp squib.I wanted to like it because I admire P.D.James for having the energy,let alone the marbles, to produce novels at her age and I think Jane Austen,beneath the gaudy layers of cinematic misinterpretation of recent years, is a true giant in English literature.Unfortunately I found this misconceived and stodgily executed product of their meeting impossible to love.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 9 February 2012
What a disappointment. It's actually hard to believe a writer of P D James experience and reputation could produce a book so dull and that any editor would let it go to publication in it's present form.
Let's be clear. I like detective fiction. I like Jane Austen. I like fanfiction which is what this novel is, in essence. Sadly it fails to satisfy either as a murder mystery or as a Pride and Prejudice sequel.
Everything about the book is flat. Elizabeth and Darcy are dull, Colonel Fitzwilliam has become a curmudgeonly prig and any new characters are sketchily drawn so that we have very little interest in them. One exception was Sir Selwyn Hardcastle. We could have done with more of him. When a character speaks it is usually in long verbose paragraphs or even pages - Mr Darcy speaks to Elizabeth near the end in a speech that goes on uninterrupted for two and a half pages.
Much could be forgiven if the murder mystery at the centre of this turgid tale was in any way gripping but the investigation, such as it is, proceeds at a plodding pace. When the only suspect is eventually brought to trial it seems things might be about to pick up but in fact it is at this point that the plot collapses into a massive anticlimax and it's back to pages and pages of exposition, much rehashing what has already been revealed. Whatever happened to every editors mantra - show don't tell?
I really couldn't recommend this book and it is sad that late in a distinguised career James has written a novel that fails on so many levels.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
As a period crime and Austen fan I was hoping that an accomplished author might create something special by combining the two but neither the Austen homage or the the complex crime scenario really work! The first CD [over an hour long] consists of a precis of the Pride and Prejudice story as a prelude to the main event. Sadly it seemed to go on forever with little of the original wit, although I understand that people who have not experienced the delights of the original might need this backstory to understand what was to come.
After this rather dull beginning the story moves on 6 years and the night before a ball at Pemberley; Elizabeth's sister Lydia arrives at the door on this stormy night shrieking that her husband is in danger or might be dead! The crime element of the book lacks potential suspects and the mystery would not trouble the 'little grey cells' [to steal a phrase from elsewhere!] of most fans of the genre. I was hoping for Darcy or Elizabeth to have played a more important role in the crime and had imagined a period 'houseparty' style of story but we move far too swiftly away from Pemberley and sadly Elizabeth, a shadow of her former self.
'Death comes to Pemberley' but the story moves away to London instead for some rather dry court and legal sequences before the denouement - well I thought that's what it was before realising that there were still a few CDs to go! The last 2 CDs definitely needed a good editor to pare it down as it went on and on, with a sequence where Darcy and Elizabeth discuss topics I thought would have been done and dusted 6 years before being particularly trying. We also have Darcy uttering some 'out of character' banalities that had me reaching for the sick bucket so a very disappointing end.
The nod to some other Austen books, Persuasion and Emma, might have given the fans a wry chuckle but overall a disappointment. There are several anachronisms and some historical inaccuracies when tallied with the original books but those are only tiny flaws that I could overlook if it made a better job of being either a crime novel or an Austen sequel.
Sheila Mitchell does a reasonable job with the material but there a few instances where her reading places emphasis in the wrong place and one place where she reads the same sentence twice, careful audio editing would have picked up these errors. She does manage to create some distinct voices that enable the listener to distinguish the various characters easily but ultimately the material is dull and lacklustre so it is hard to maintain the audience's interest.
There are definitely excellent Austen inspired works out there and P D James has certainly written some excellent crime novels - this is neither.
32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on 29 December 2011
This latest by P.D. James had very good reviews in several newspapers and magazines; I can only think the reviewers had never read a Jane Austen novel, or they have been subject to such literary dross in their critical lives, that their sense of art has been dulled, if not completely done away with. The book has very little drama, no dialogue, no characterisation, no plot. All that made JA a literary Titan (yes I know not in everyone's eyes) has been missed from this 'sequel'. The quality of text is poor; words of more than one syllable are absent and the general tone is one of patient explanation of the obvious. The murder is little more than a ridiculously improbable accident with even more improbable cause and the mortification/rehabilitation of Wickham is hardly creditable. Where are the vivacious heroine, humour, sparkling wit, ingenious twists, satisfying denouement? Enough! I think you get the gist...
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 20 January 2012
Pride & Prejudice is my favourite book and having never read a P D James book before I approached this book with interest and some trepidation. Pride & Prejudice attracts a lot of spin offs, but they rarely live up to expectations and neither does this one. I downloaded the first chapter and got a run through of a book I had read many times which was boring but I downloaded the whole book and found the characters seemed to have changed personality. Elizabeth had become " little wifey" with barely an own thought. Where was the feisty opinionated woman we knew? I thought the story plodded and I didn't feel the excitement a murder mystery should bring and the ending was too neat and too quick. Having said all that I liked the book! Jane Austen fan that I am, I loved reading about the characters again and even though some of their action/ dialogue jarred I was so happy to be in their world again. The thing I missed most was the humour but I suppose murder mystery's may not be the place for humour. Jane Austen fans keep writing books because you never know someone may be able to capture the essence of her writing one day!