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Death comes to Pemberley – book review

8 February 2012

Death Comes to PemberleyDeath Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

P.D. James is known mainly as a writer of detective and other crime stories, though she has occasionally ventured into other genres like fantasy. In this book, however, she combines her main genre, crime fiction, with two others — the historical novel and fan fiction, or fanfic for short.

It is not often that established writers venture into the field of fan fiction, in which people write their own stories about the characters and settings created by other authors. In this case the author is Jane Austen and the characters are taken from her novel Pride and prejudice.

I thought I’d better re-read Pride and prejudice before reading this one, since this is a sequel and I’m glad I did so (reviewed in my previous post). P.D. James manages to keep the characters fairly faithful to Jane Austen’s originals. The setting is reproduced faithfully too. The plot is believable as a follow-on to Pride and prejudice so one of the purposes of fan fiction is fulfilled — it enables readers to read more about characters they like and to follow their adventures.

What is missing, however, is the style and wit of Jane Austen. In contrast to Pride and prejudice, Death comes to Pemberley is a bit pedestrian. It’s even a bit pedestrian compared with P.D. James’s other novels. And perhaps that is why fan fiction rarely gets published; it seems easy, but it is actually more demanding if it is to be satisfying for anyone other than the person who wrote it. There seem to be several anachronisms, especially in vocabulary. I doubt that Jane Austen would ever have used the word “lifestyle”, for example. I don’t think the word even existed in her time.

So it is pleasant reading, and faithful to characters and setting, but no substitute for the real thing.

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