Original sin

by P. D. James

Paper Book, 1994

Status

Available

Publication

London : Faber and Faber, 1994

Description

"Commander Adam Dalgliesh and his team are confronted with a puzzle of impenetrable complexity. A murder has taken place in the offices of the Peverell Press, a venerable London publishing house located in a dramatic mock-Venetian palace on the Thames. The victim is Gerard Etienne, the brilliant but ruthless new managing director, who had vowed to restore the firm's fortunes. Etienne was clearly a man with enemies - a discarded mistress, a rejected and humiliated author, and rebellious colleagues, one of whom apparently killed herself a short time earlier. Yet Etienne's death, which occurred under bizarre circumstances, is for Dalgliesh only the beginning of the mystery, as he desperately pursues the search for a killer prepared to strike and strike again."--P. [4] of cover.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member reading_fox
Slow and protracted complex whodunnit.

Written in '94 and set about then, Peverell Press is one of the last and largest independant publishing houses in England. Control has recently passed into the hands of one Gerald Ettinne. Ambitious and motivated to make his fortune several startling changes are planned to keep the company modern. Chief inspector Dalgliesh and his team decline to investigate a suicide on the premises, but when the body count mounts they are called in. All the partners are suspects as well as many of the other workers, but they all have alibis - some of which over many pages the team manage to cast doubt on. The case progresses in a slow and workmanlike manner as various red herrings are explored unitl the sudden and unexpected conclusion.

At times it's painfully slow. James has never managed to allieviate the tendancy of describing each new character in paragraghs of turgid (and skipable) detail. The upside of this technique is that eventually you do get to care about the characters a bit, particularly the interactions between the various memebers of Dalgliesh's squad. Which are well crafted. This is the 9th of the series which I've not read as a complete series but presumably there is quite a bit of backstory which is continued here.

There isn't really any suspense built up - other than knowing the book's about to finish and there still aren't any obvious clues - but the ending is sufficiently unobvious (although with insight there are a very few clues) to come as a surprise to most readers. Fortunetly it doesn't come about through one of Dalgliesh's hunches although these do occur sufficiently to annoy, and there is the tedious requirement of a grand denoucement by the purpitraitor which again seems very contrived.

The atmosphere is very good throughout - the wearied police facing yet another bunch of probably lying and coniving witnesess and suspects. The gossiping tealadies and secretaries eager for the latest rumours and scared of all the attention. The dramatic background of the Thames and the detail of Innocent house, but overall a faster pace would be more engaging to the reader.

Worthwhile - especially for long journies when you've nothing better to do.
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LibraryThing member thorold
For some reason, I have never really got to grips with PD James, although I generally do enjoy a nice, slow-moving, literate British murder story. This one struck me as very good on characterisation and detail, but a little thin as a detective story. There are a lot of lovingly-described characters who don't ultimately play much part in the story, the detectives don't do much actual detection, and the solution to the mystery is found by chance in the last few pages. But there is room for a lot of moral discussion in the manner of Dorothy L. Sayers (the setting in a small firm makes you think of Murder must advertise), and we get quite a bit of 1990s Wapping atmosphere, so why not?… (more)
LibraryThing member kvyar
The best of the three of her novels I've read as yet. Very good pacing, provided you don't mind her long-winded descriptive writing (which I personally rather enjoy).
LibraryThing member benfulton
As always, the characters drive the novel, and the puzzle takes something of a back seat. But the characters are rich and interesting, and the lush descriptions of the Thames probably resonate to Britishers; as an American, I thought it sounded very nice. Like her novel Devices and Desires the mystery revolves around the distant past of the characters, and although I wasn't able to identify the murderer before it was revealed, I thought the details that had come out about those pasts might have been sufficient to solve the puzzle earlier, at least on a circumstantial level. The historical detail was elegantly put together. I haven't enjoyed every James I've read, but I've enjoyed the last few enough to think I need to go back and read the earlier ones again to see if I missed something. This is one of the best stories from an excellent writer.… (more)
LibraryThing member alaskabookworm
I'm not a big genre-reader, though I'm getting progressively more interested in sci-fi/fantasy. However, I still have a hard time with mysteries. I liked "Original Sin" more than the Agatha Christies I've read. Strangely, mystery-lovers I know don't like James as much, saying she uses too much detail, too much character development and less action. I guess that's why I like her. I will definitely read more of her stuff.… (more)
LibraryThing member lahochstetler
A publishing house finds itself in the grips of fear after its director is murdered. The murder follows a series of odd pranks and suicides. It is clear that something is not right at the Peverell Press. Inspector Dalgliesh is called in along with two junior detectives. It seems clear that the murderer had to be one of the staff, but how and why remain a mystery.

As James always does, she manages to develop numerous complicated characters and a multi-faceted plot. On the side of law and order the two junior inspectors are more important than Dalgliesh to the plot and the investigation. As with the suspects, their own lives and histories will play pivotal roles in the investigation and its resolution. James does not disappoint in this mystery, and the book follows patterns seen in her other Dalgliesh novels. In the end the police discover that an alibi is not quite as unassailable as it seems.
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LibraryThing member NellieMc
I decided to read all of the Adam Daigliesh mysteries in one fell swoop and am glad I did. First, they are classic British mysteries all well-deserving of the respect P.D. James has earned for them and all are a good read. However, what is interesting is to watch the author develop her style from the early ones to the later ones. And, in fact, A Shroud for a Nightingale and The Black Tower (the fourth and fifth in the series) is where she crosses the divide. The later books have much more character development -- both for the players and the detectives -- make Dalgleish more rounded and are generally much more than a good mystery yarn -- they're fine novels that happen to be mysteries. The first three books (Cover Her Face, A Mind to Murder, Unnatural Causes) are just that much more simplistic. But read any or all -- she's a great writer and they are definitely worth the time.… (more)
LibraryThing member ckbrouwer
I really couldn't get into this one for some odd reason. Maybe it was because it took longer than usual to get to the muder :-). But still, a P.D. James that is a little under-par is still better than 99% of the other stuff that passes for mysteries out there!
LibraryThing member eilonwy_anne
Classic Dalgliesh novel. Perspective dancing from one character to the next, so that even the misfits and marginalized in the story are understandable and human. I like the setting of Innocent House and the presence of the Thames. Some rich conflicts and plot payoffs.
LibraryThing member dragon178
I couldn't put this book down, in spite of several gaps in the plot, and the loose ends at the conclusion. P. D. James introduces the very charming Mandy Price, and it's a pity that her character and role is not developed further, which would have added to the interest of the story.

The pranks occurring in the early part of the book are not fully explained or justified. What purpose does Sonia Clement's suicide play in the overall movement forward of the story? Red herrings like these dilute the story.

Yet it is a very good read. The characters are delineated convincingly, except De Witts, about whom the reader gets the feeling that the author could not decide whether he would be portrayed as a wimp or a saint.The Thames acquires a personality of its own, and it is almost a character in the story.
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LibraryThing member AliceAnna
The least typical of the Adam Dalgleish novels -- only saw AD from the viewpoint of the other characters. Unfortunately, I picked the murderer immediately although I had the motive entirely wrong. Not one of her best ... way too much exposition and descriptive passages. Too many characters described in too much depth.
LibraryThing member lamour
On her first day of work at Peverell Publishing, office temp Mandy Price discovers a dead woman in the company archives. As the police and company employees try to discover why the woman killed herself, the new company manager who was making changes to the company and cutting jobs is murdered. Is it revenge? Are there secrets in the company files?

Commander Dalgliesh is brought into the case at the request of a Lord whose book is being published by Peverell. The Commander, a regular character of James, along with his usual team work carefully to solve the case.

The story is load with characters who all have interesting lives and problems that may be part of the case but often are there for the reader to be distracted from pointing to that one as the possible murderer. Complicated but fun to read.
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LibraryThing member quiBee
Well written mystery with good characterisation. Puzzling until near the end and then rather frustrating behaviour by one of the protagonists.
LibraryThing member Mary_Overton
"The stink rolled out to meet them like an evil wraith, the familiar human smell of vomit, not strong but so unexpected that Mandy instinctively recoiled. Over Miss Etienne's shoulder her eyes took in at once a small room with an uncarpeted wooden floor, a square table to the right of the door and a single high window. Under the window was a divan bed and on the bed sprawled a woman.

"It had needed no smell to tell Mandy she was looking at death. She didn't scream; she had never screamed from fear or shock; but a giant fist mailed in ice clutched and squeezed her heart and stomach and she began shivering as violently as a child lifted from an icy sea. Neither of them spoke but, with Mandy close behind Miss Etienne, they moved with quiet almost imperceptible steps closer to the bed.

"....

"Mandy whispered as reverently as if she were in church: 'Who is she?'

"Miss Etienne's voice was calm. 'Sonia Clements. One of our senior editors.'

"'Was I going to work for her?'

"Mandy knew the question was irrelevant as soon as she asked it, but Miss Etienne replied: 'For part of the time, yes, but not for long. She was leaving at the end of the month.'

"She picked up the envelope, seeming to weigh it in her hands. Mandy thought, She wants to open it but not in front of me. After a few seconds Miss Etienne said: 'Addressed to the coroner. It's obvious enough what's happened here even without this. I'm sorry you've had this shock, Miss Price. It was inconsiderate of her. If people wish to kill themselves they should do so in their own homes.'" pg. 12-13
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LibraryThing member dbsovereign
I like the fact that James' characters are not black/white. The story seemed a bit contrived, but I like the way it unfolded.
LibraryThing member TedWitham
A great read as to be expected from P.D. James. I am not surprised that _Original Sin_ is not a accomplished as James's later books - but the moral dilemma for the detective off-sider is well drawn.
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