A British woman lawyer is murdered soon after successfully defending her client who was on trial for murder. As he opens an investigation, Commander Dalgliesh of New Scotland Yard learns the man recently became engaged to the lawyer's daughter. Is there a connection? By the author of Original Sin.
Venetia had recently won a murder trial of a young man accused of murdering his aunt. To her utter horror that young man has become engaged to her daughter and Venetia was in the process of putting a stop to the romance. Although her daughter and fiancé have an alibi for the time of the murder, it turns out they weren't the only ones who would benefit from Venetia's death.
I have seen many people mention PD James over the years and I've heard great things about the Adam Dalgliesh series but I had never gotten around to reading anything by her. I am glad to say that has been rectified. This book was very addicting and I was happily surprised to see it didn't end the way I had guessed it would. I would like to go back to the start of the series and start them in order now.
On the positive side, James is always good at digging out what makes small workplace communities tick. Her technique works very well when applied to barristers’ chambers - even if there are inevitable echoes of John Mortimer and we half expect a cloud of Rumpole’s cigar smoke to emerge from behind one of the oaken doors. Her discussion of the criminal lawyer’s basic ethical dilemma - how to justify defending someone whom you yourself suspect to be guilty - doesn't really tell us anything new, but it sets out very clearly why it has to be like that, at the same time as illustrating the price that we sometimes have to pay for having a system that tries to be fair to the innocent.
As such it's a fitting cover for this book. Temple Chambers his the professional home of some of London's leading barristers. An arachic place, where the aging populace resist the modern intrusions. Apart of course from some. Venetia Aldridge the highest ranked women and therefore likely to suceed as Head of Chambers is looking to appoint modern practises to the dismay of many. Prickly and aloof, her realtionship with her daughter was never going to be strong, but it rapidly deteriorates even further, when the daughter (Octavia) takes up with an innocent boy. Innocent only because Venetia brilliantly defended him some weeks earlier. Venetia knows he committed murder, the evidence was not sufficient. She is far from pleased to see him again with her daughter.
And so proceeds the opening third of the book, stately in the manner of all barristers charging by the minute, the life and times of Venetia are displayed, she disagrees with many people, all of whom become suspects when she is found grotesquely murdered in Chambers. Enter Adam Dalgliesh and team. The remaining two thirds of the book,,a re a far more standard procedure, as alibi's are checked and suspects questioned. There are so many suspects that its tricky to keep all the names straight.
As is oftne the case, Adam actually takes a back seat in the narrative to Kate Miskin, and it should really be her series. As she struggles to maintain her professionallism, and grasps the chances life puts in her way with both hands. Growing up on a crime riddled estate has marked her in many ways.
The ending is sudden, with no real explanation given for how Dalglish arrived at the conclusions he drew.
An enjoyable, stately mystery, with a salutery reminder at the end, as to what justice is, and what it is not.
I particularly like the way in which the police are delayed by a catholic priest. A situation where it would have been so easy to make the Church into a villain, but an area where the author is at pains to fairly show both sides of the argument.
These real characters are set into a story which, were I to use my limited story telling ability to present a precis, would appear to be ludicrous but, owing to the strength of the characters, seems rational as one reads. Four hundred and eighty pages fly by in scintillating entertainment. I apologise to P.D. James for the error of my youthful ways.
James gave us so many suspects, too. My head was spinning to keep them all straight.
The book was well written and the plot was excellent. It is a very good book for mystery fans. I recommend this book.
And of course James sneaks in theology and religion in the most neutral of ways, seemingly indifferent. But the message is there, if you are searching.
It’s by re-reading certain authors with greater clarity than I have apparently mustered, the very self-conscious act that lies behind the public use of the verb 'to re-read'. Is it related to the fact that to describe someone as well read is a bigger compliment than remarking on how someone has been to a lot of opera or surfed a lot of the internet? Do we measure intellectual merit by number of books read? Is that a good thing? (I imagine for the readers of a books blog, the answer is “Yes”). I don't know. Some people see re-reading as a light-hearted irritating tendency though not life-threatening social trope, sometimes seasoned with a few sharp comments (in some reviews) on how to deflate the braying, boastful re-reader like myself. Of course there are more specific and sophisticated ways of doing that.
The same happens when it comes to P. D. James. When you strip the storyline back to its bare bones, it's as a shock to understand how little there is to it (minimalist comes to mind), but then it's the James storytelling in some of her novels, her ability to make physical descriptions of her characters, and her profound psychological insight into her characters that are important and putting it all together allows James to weave an intricate web narrative-wise. By binging once again on P.D. James I can see right away what separates the truly gifted writer from the merely entertaining one (like Agatha Christie). James (almost) always manages to give me entertainment value while also offering me attention-getting prose that makes me really think about how the characters feel and how events in the plot might actually affect the lives of real people. That’s what distinguishes P. D. James from her Crime Fiction counterparts. Take this as an example: Octavia, one of those adult children who insist on being treated as an adult, but moves in with Mummy and tries to rule her house instead of finding her own, 'You see, the only person who’s in a state about her daughter coming home is you'. Insolent and narcissistic. Some children are difficult to love and even more difficult to like. Detestable. Will Mummy turn out to be the Mummy from hell?
Bottom-line: A gripping book from start to finish. Well, almost. I hated the ending… as far as I can recall, it was the first time Dalgliesh does not close a case successfully.
James does an excellent job with the portraits of all her characters, police as well as suspects and innocent bystanders. She had me coming and going throughout, unable to pinpoint anyone as the prime suspect in this whodunnit. The randomness of human existence is underscored and role of coincidence in the plot and the lives of the characters is a major theme. The problems of love and its absence, the nature of evil and the struggle to achieve something worthwhile in life, to hold onto one's place until reaching the finish line will resonate with most people who spend the better part of their lives pursuing success, security, the respect of peers and the love of family.
And in the end the system achieves the certain justice which gives this novel its title and the caution that in human affairs this is sometimes all that can be expected or hoped for.