Honestly, more often than not any book that is based or loosely based on a Jane Austen novel is a disaster, and yet for some reason I keep devouring them. Go figure ;) Because of that, though, I didn't have the highest hopes for Death Comes to Pemberley - especially as I'm not much of a mystery novel person - so I suppose I'm inclined to be a bit easier with my rating for this book than others have been.
At first the author seemed to get the flow and language of Austen's writing correct, but as the story progressed she tended to slip in and out of this voice. Considering that she was best at it while rehashing the events of Pride & Prejudice (which, by the way, was completely unnecessary and felt more like filler than anything else) I have to say that she probably shouldn't have tried to capture that voice at all. It was especially bad whenever there was dialogue, much of which seemed stiff, stilted.
The other obvious issue is that James clearly didn't/doesn't understand many of P&P's beloved characters. I could write one long blog entry about this alone, but if you have any inkling of respect for Charlotte or Colonel Fitzwilliam I simply suggest that you not read this book. When one of the most detested P&P characters is portrayed as almost a good guy throughout most of this novel, and two of the most neutral P&P characters are painted as extremely questionable entities, it's probably time to step away. Unfortunately...I didn't listen to myself, in this case. ::sigh::
As for the mystery aspect of Death Comes to Pemberley, suffice it to say that I expected a more important character to die. I don't want to give too much else away; I will admit that I was kept guessing as to the culprit for quite some time (though what I did guess, about halfway through the novel, was fairly close to what actually happened). I do think that in the end, the explanation seemed far too convoluted and unnecessary - we simply did not need so much background/backstory as to why and how the murder happened. As for the "inquest" and the "trial" - well, let's just say they were repetitive and felt a lot like filler, to me.
Lastly, I will admit that I did like the random asides/mentions that brought in other Austen characters and stories, mainly because I'm not sure I've ever seen someone do this before in a Pride & Prejudice "sequel". Unfortunately that alone could not rescue my opinion of this book, which I'd say at most rates 2/5 stars.
"'Gossip about the feelings of others when we cannot fully understand them, and they may not understand them themselves, can be a cause of distress.'"
"It is never so difficult to congratulate a friend on her good fortune than when that fortune appears undeserved."