Death Comes to Pemberley – review

 I was disappointed by this book. As a sequel to Pride and Prejudice I was hoping for something with the same vitality as the original, paired with P.D.James’s flair for ingenious plotting, but I found neither. Perhaps James was seeking to adopt a style more in keeping with the early nineteenth century, when the original book was written, but I found her prose plodding and verbose. Because so much of the story depends on a previous knowledge of events in the original book, there is a great deal of summarising of the ‘back story’, with characters reminding each other of past events in order to ensure that the reader is up to speed. Even when the plot moves on, much of the action takes place ‘off stage’ which again requires it to be related at second hand.

The murder mystery itself seemed to me to lack James’s usual flair for unexpected plot twists. There is only ever one suspect and as the evidence stacks up against him we know that at some point there must be a revelation that proves his innocence, but when it comes it struck me as unconvincing. The idea that a young man at the point of death, from some undisclosed sickness, could find the strength to deal the blow which leads to the victim’s death takes some believing, but even less credible is the fact that he waits months, until the suspect is brought to trial and found guilty, before confessing. He does not, after all, face any danger that he will be accused of murder in his turn, since the actual death was an accident; and he knows anyway that he has not long to live. There are other revelations to follow, but again they are all delivered at second hand.

Meanwhile, we have to sit though the inquest and the trial itself, where the same evidence is repeated over and over again by various witnesses. And when the final denouement is reached, this has to be explained to us repeatedly by each participant. This is interspersed with long internal soliloquys from Elizabeth and Darcy about the effects of their marriage on those around them, their responsibilities to Pemberley and its occupants, and their previous relationships.

There is a well known adage constantly quoted to aspiring writers; ‘Show, don’t tell.’ In this respect I am afraid ‘Death comes to Pemberley’ falls short.