Bookmarks Issue: 
P.D. James

A-Death-Comes-To-PemberleyHonored as Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991, P. D. James is the author of 14 novels featuring the detective Adam Dalgliesh, as well as several other books. This novel reprises Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Reviewed: The Lighthouse (HHHJ Mar/Apr 2006), The Private Patient (HHHJ Mar/Apr 2009), Talking About Detective Fiction (HHHJ Mar/Apr 2010).

The Story: Under the ballroom banter and heartfelt correspondence runs something of a sinister thread in Pride and Prejudice. Certainly characters such as Darcy's friend Wickham have a checkered past that Austen could only imply in 1797. And why, exactly, is the Lord of Pemberley so brooding in the first place? The celebrated British mystery novelist P. D. James addresses these questions by staging a murder mystery at the main locale of her favorite novelist's best-known novel, which, in James's hands, takes place in 1803, just a few years after Elizabeth and Darcy, who now have two children, started their life together.
Knopf. 304 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9780307959850

Globe and Mail (Canada) 4 of 5 Stars"But underneath the restrained surface [of this seemingly conventional English mystery] is a much darker current--of blackmail, abandonment, madness--which you might expect from one of the world's great mystery writers, a woman who once admitted she was ‘obsessed with death' from childhood. More than that, James uses Death in Pemberley to examine the plight of women, whose lives were entirely dependent on the success of the marriages they made." Elizabeth Renzetti

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars"[I]t's surprisingly gratifying, while turning the pages of P. D. James's homage, to find oneself laughing not at the characters but with them. ... Her innovation has been to transplant the dramatis personae from Austen into her own suspenseful universe, preserving their likenesses and life force." Liesl Schillinger

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars"There are hints of unwholesome intrigue and past betrayals in Austen's original novel; Ms. James pulls them into the light, with enhanced revelations of the price Darcy has paid for domestic tranquility and the prices paid by others. ... Ms. James has done an impressive job in combining her crime-novelist technique with Jane Austen's sweetly acidic sensibility." Tom Nolan

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars"While many writers have composed sequels to the various Austen masterpieces, James manages to preserve the flavor of Pride and Prejudice while also creating a fairly good whodunit. ... It is a solidly entertaining period mystery and a major treat for any fan of Jane Austen." Michael Dirda

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars" With all the plot's bleakness, readers will inevitably miss Austen's amused and sparkling wit, but James is wise enough not to try to duplicate that." Kenneth Turan

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars"The style of Death Comes to Pemberley is a loose approximation of 19th-century prose, a sort of modern equivalent, rather than a painstaking imitation. ... If the novel has a weakness, oddly, it's the mystery, which by Ms. James's standards is pretty tame and uncomplicated." Charles McGrath

Critical Summary

It is a truth universally acknowledged that book reviewers eagerly await any new novel from P. D. James, one of the all-time masters of the detective novel and now in her 90s. But they were somewhat wary as James ventured into the cottage industry of Austen sequels and spin-offs. In the end, though, all agreed that James succeeded in merging her macabre sensibilities with those of the author of Sense and Sensibility. Rather than attempting to perfectly parrot Austen's prose, James rounds out the world of Pride and Prejudice by drawing upon the tone of near-contemporaries like Charlotte Bronte and Wilkie Collins. Overall, Death in Pemberley is an enjoyable diversion that should please fans of James and Austen alike.