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.