Death Comes to Pemberley - P.D. James Oh dear. What were PD James, her agent and her publisher thinking? And more to the point, what was I thinking, deciding to actually spend money on this book?

All I can say is that it seemed like a good idea at the time. I am in what I presume to be the target demographic for this novel: female, passionate about Jane Austen's novels, a long-time reader of crime fiction and a fan of PD James to boot. Indeed, if James' name had not been on the cover, this is a book I would not have contemplated reading, for while I love Austen, I have an instinctive prejudice against the Austen prequel-sequel-continuation-fanfic industry. PD James, I thought, could make this work. She didn't. So what seemed like a good idea turned into a very bad idea indeed.

Where to start? I'll try to come up with something positive to say about the book first. Well .... from time to time, when some of the book's more egregious flaws weren't overwhelming me, the fact that James can write clear and elegant prose actually came through. There are bits of witty dialogue and the occasional worthwhile section of descriptive language. Hmmm.... that's about it for the positives.

As for the negatives, the problem will be to limit myself to just a few of the things I disliked most. I'll start with the disastrous lack of characterisation and the tedious plot. The re-booted Austen characters - Darcy, Elizabeth, Jane, Bingley, Wickham and so on - are flat and diminished. All of the life Austen breathed into them has been sucked out. James' own characters are scarcely more interesting. The plot is dull and for a mystery it's not very mysterious. Sure, there's a dead body, but there's remarkably little detecting and the resolution - which arises from a deus ex machina deathbed confession falls as flat as the characterisation.

What else? Well, there are some extremely annoying "As you know, Bob" information dumps which made my eyes roll clear to the back of my head. Equally annoying (although I admit it made both me and my husband hoot with laughter) was a section in which Darcy foreshadows changes to the jury system in criminal trials and the introduction of appeals from jury verdicts. I seem to recall another bit of foreshadowing: something about how America was going to become a great nation in which human rights would be protected. (I'm hazy on the details here. That bit came at a point when I was pretty desperate to finish the book). Another thing I hated was the introduction of characters from other Austen novels whose names are randomly woven into the narrative, for what purpose I have no idea. It was unnecessary, clumsy and frankly laughable. I could write a lot more about the problems I have with the novel, but I'll leave that to others. If I keep going I might not know when to stop.

I know from my long experience of reading James' novels that she is a writer of competent police procedurals. But something went very wrong with this experiment. Readers who want to read a Pride and Prejudice continuation will want to at least recognise the characters they know and love. They won't find them in this novel. Readers who want to read a mystery novel will want a puzzle to solve. Their expectations won't be met either.

Admittedly, when I started reading this novel I wasn't convinced that it would appeal to me. That was my prejudice against Austen fanfic speaking. I thought James could be the writer who would lead me to overcome that prejudice - or that at the very least I would get to read an entertaining piece of crime fiction - but that was not to be. This book is a big fail in all departments, only made bearable by the fact that it was a buddy read with my friends Jemidar and Jeannette.

The lesson I have learned from the experience? My aversion to Austen fan fiction is soundly based. If I want to read about Elizabeth and Darcy, I'll re-read Pride and Prejudice. Austen's characters belong in her novels and in my imagination. I really don't want to see them anywhere else.

I thought about giving this book two stars, but I can't. Maybe it deserves 1-1/2 stars for good grammar, well-constructed sentences and no obvious typos. I can't rate it any more highly than that.

ETA: I've just discovered that this book was positively reviewed in The New York Times. I don't agree with the reviewer's assessment, but different perspectives are always worth reading.