My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I considered mounting a passionate defense in favor of this lovingly-rendered tribute to Jane Austen, but then I decided I couldn’t be bothered with the naysayers. If you pick up this gentle whodunit expecting the sartorial sleuthing of Commander Adam Dalgliesh, you will be disappointed. If you read this looking for the ghost of Jane Austen, you will catch but a glimpse of her delicate frame. Although the point of fan-fiction escapes me entirely (I can’t help but think of tribute bands; I have no more desire to explore fan-fiction than I would to see my approaching-middle-age cohorts belt out Whitesnake’s greatest hits), Death Comes to Pemberley reads like a tender squeeze of affection from one national literary treasure to another.
If you do sink into this literary treat, know that your Jane ear will delight in the recaptured cadence of her prose and that you will be enchanted by the senses and sensibilities of Regency Britain. You will encounter familiar names and faces from across the Austen oeuvre; you will be moved by James’s piquant touches of the political and social realities of the era.
If you aren’t able to let go and enjoy Death Comes to Pemberley within its opening pages, put it down, walk away and spend your time reading something better suited to your expectations.
P.D. James isn’t so many years from meeting Jane in that Great Bibliotheque in the Sky. I can just see these two outrageously smart, sublime writers sharing a pot of tea and chatting about their writing lives. To curl up in a damask wing chair before a merry fire, listening to Jane and Phyllis plotting out a meeting between Adam Dalgliesh and Fitzwilliam Darcy is my vision of heaven.