"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.  of cover.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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