Death Comes to Pemberley had a promising premise even to a Jane Austen fanfiction avoider such as myself. Death and mayhem befalling the dramatically inclined Wickham household is mostly irresistible especially in the hands of prolific writer, P.D. James. The lady is no novice and knows a thing or two about the whodunnit genre. I was willing to take a chance despite all the rather unfortunate reviews.
Plot-wise, there’s not much to talk about. A murder occurs on the Pemberley property the night before the Darcys are meant to hold a huge ball. Lydia and Wickham are involved in said murder. There’s an investigation, inquest, trial, and aftermath. That’s pretty much it.
James sets her story six years after Pride and Prejudice. I was so excited to see where marriage had led Lizzie and Darcy, Jane and Bingley. Plus, I really wanted to see the Wickhams get what they had coming to them. Particularly Lydia. I really detest Lydia.
The novel opens with a whole chapter that recaps P&P. The entire plot. Boring. Snooze. I think this was completely unnecessary as most of the readers were coming directly from the source material. The others probably know the plot of P&P simply because they are alive and read. Maybe I’m being harsh. Once I had slogged through that bit of redundancy, the pacing should have, but didn’t pick up. I don’t mean to say that the book is hard to read or takes a long time, but if FELT long. James seems to be trying too hard to write Austen-esque prose. It doesn’t flow smoothly.
But people, where the hell is Elizabeth? She’s present, off and on, but mainly as background scenery. In what literary world would our dear Lizzie Bennett ever not be a driving force to any story involving her? Her lack of vivacity and general characterization was the book’s most evil downfall. Darcy has also reverted back to his icy, stoic ways. And since he’s the lead to this narrative, the book feels just as icy and stoic. I missed Darcy and Elizabeth so hard.
The other characters are decent enough – the Wickhams are still dastardly, the Bingleys still sweet, and Mr. Bennett is still my favorite literary father. The newly introduced characters never really amount to much although I did enjoy Georgiana and her male suitors quite a bit. The murder mystery is almost not worth mentioning. Nothing was surprising or particularly interesting in how it all unfolded. Only one scene was at all shocking and, again, Darcy’s wooden perspective pretty much ruined it.
I did enjoy one aspect of the novel immensely. Off and on, James manages to bring together the Austenian society of her many novels into this one story. I really loved seeing how the Knightley’s (of Emma fame) found their way into the plot.
I know P.D. James is better than this. I’m determined to read something else by her and love it. But Death Comes to Pemberley is just a tragically epic mess. And as much as I hated writing that sentence, it’s the truth. I should have listened to my peers and stayed away. Perhaps I should just stay away from Austen fanfiction in general. I hated Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as well as Austenland. Boo, hiss.
So tell me Austen fans – what’s your favorite Austen fanfiction? Any good recommendations? Did you like this one or love Austenland and just think I’m a Scrooge?