Murder and Prejudice

8 May
P.D. James at Swindon Festival of Literature

P.D. James at Swindon Festival of Literature

P.D. James has been posing questions of her detective hero Adam Dalgleish for sixty years but more recently the veteran writer has turned her attention to Jane Austen. While Dalgliesh has ‘never got a day older’, James herself now uses a stick and was taking a Zimmer frame home from Swindon today. But it is the equally ageless prose of Austen that continues to fascinate James and which has culminated in the crime writers’ most recent book ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’ . The book seeks to answer many of the questions left hanging by Austen , among them ‘Would Elizabeth have married Darcy if he had no money?’ It’s easy to see the enthusiasm that James continues to have for her writing, particularly as she describes another Austen classic, Emma, as a ‘brilliant detective story’, one which she first read when she was fifteen years old. Four year later war broke out and the pressures of bringing up her two girls took their toll on the writer, when her husband returned from the war with mental problems she soon realised that ‘there was never going to be a good time and what I really wanted to be was a writer, so I did most of my plotting and planning on the Tube on the way to work’. Remarkably James’ first novel was accepted straight away, the Northern, District and Circle lines seemingly the perfect underground diversion from rejection. In her books James has used the detective story to say something true about men and women and continues to do so, this time mixing her classy plot construction with that of Austen to great effect. ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’ begins on a typical night in Austenland, then a body is found in the wild wood – the intrigue and storytelling ensuring a BBC adaptation for this Christmas. Let’s hope that James does not have the same experience as she did with previous adaptations of her Dalgleish novels where her dialogue was cut and plot changed.


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