P D James’ latest detective novel is good winter reading: entertaining and easy to read (and very English – perfect with a glass of port and your feet up in front of a blazing fire.) Jane Austen fans will know what to expect from the title: a detective story based on Pride and Prejudice.
The real pleasure of the novel is James’ re-creation of Austen’s style: her lengthy sentences and carefully-chosen vocabulary give a convincing impression of early nineteenth – century prose. She manages this consistently, with the minor characters as well as the major ones ( Darcy, Elizabeth and Wickham):
No one expected Mary to marry. She was a compulsive reader but without discrimination or understanding, an assiduous practiser at the pianoforte but devoid of talent, and a frequent deliverer of platitudes which had neither wisdom nor wit.
The language and the enjoyment of character-hunting ( there are references to Emma, Persuasion and Agatha Christie in Death Comes to Pemberley, as well as the cast of Pride and Prejudice) kept me reading – and made up for a less-than-convincing detective story, and for the fact that P D James’ Elizabeth is lacking in the charm and vivacity of Austen’s Lizzie Bennet (I’m afraid that marriage, motherhood and the obligations of being a Lady have made her, well, a bit boring.)