A certain justice: Adam Dalgliesh mystery

by P. D. James

Paper Book, 1997




New York : A. A. Knopf, 1997.


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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member thorold
This is another one where P.D. James has a hard time getting beyond her general disenchantment with modern British society. As in Private Patient, the victim is a successful career-woman (in this case a QC) who has managed to build up a very impressive portfolio of people with strong motives to murder her. Reading James, you sometimes wonder how it is that women ever manage to avoid violent death as they rise in the professions: coming within range of the glass ceiling must expose you to a murder rate unmatched anywhere outside Cotswold villages and small Swedish towns... On the other hand, the suspects are mostly as unattractive as the victim, so I suppose it's fair.

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.
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LibraryThing member EssFair
Dalgliesh and his team solve three murders but justice is not always served even if the murder is solved. Three murder victims are eventually linked through personal mysteries each tries to hide. Who killed the successful criminal lawyer whose brilliant defenses often delayed justice for the criminals she defended? Who placed a judge’s wig on the victim’s head and dumped blood on her after her death? Who killed the law firm’s cleaning woman? And why does a young man, accused of murdering his aunt, and defended by the dead lawyer want to marry the lawyer’s daughter? Great mystery with lots of time spent developing the characters of the victim/s and murderer/s rather than on the personal lives of the detective team.… (more)
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 nbmars
A murder of a successful but not much-liked criminal lawyer, Venetia Aldridge, occupies the attention of Scotland Yard Commander Adam Dalgliesh and his cohorts Detective Inspectors Kate Miskin and Piers Tarrant. Venetia's fellow law firm partners are all under suspicion, adding a bit of fun since, as lawyers, they know well how to manipulate a criminal investigation procedure. Complications arise when a murderer whom Venetia got acquitted, one Garry Ashe, suddenly takes up romantically with Venetia's daughter Octavia. The book doesn't end neatly - a definite breath of fresh air for the genre, allowing one of the characters to make the observation from which the book's title arises: "It is good for us to be reminded from time to time that our system of law is human, and, therefore, fallible and that the most we can hope to achieve is a certain justice." (JAF)… (more)
LibraryThing member ChelleBearss
Venetia Aldridge, a distinguish barrister, has been killed in her chambers. Stabbed once through the heart she has been left in her office chair, covered in blood with a full wig on.
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.
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LibraryThing member sbsolter
A Certain Justice is probably my least favorite P.D. James I've read so far. It is certainly a complex and intricate mystery, with the usual crisp writing, which I enjoyed, but overall it felt rather uneven. There was a lot of time spent with the narrative focused on the suspects, describing things that wouldn't be known to the detectives. Some of this is understandable in any detective story, but too much of it makes it less of a mystery than I would like. There was also an extremely long confession letter that was a bit tedious. The main detective, Dalgliesh, doesn't really have any character to speak of - I don't feel like I could describe him or his personality even after reading several novels featuring him. His role in the narrative is actually fairly small. It seemed like we didn't really get to follow the detecting process in detail as much as I would expect, and then suddenly at the very end somehow Dalgliesh knows who committed the murder.

I have now read one early P.D. James and two later ones (she took a break of several years in her writing) and so far I think the early was the best. I think I will try another early one next.
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LibraryThing member MusicMom41
P.D James is in a class by herself and this novel is one of her best, imo. One of her gifts is the way she can reveal the psychological character of her subjects so that you feel you know and understand them. Her books stir both the mind and the emotions of her readers and you will remember her characters long after you've finished the book. Highly recommended for those who enjoy this kind of experience.… (more)
LibraryThing member the.ken.petersen
It grieves me to say that in my impetuous youth, I resented the longevity of P.D. James' books. Fortunately, with age comes wisdom and I now admire the depth of her characters. Not only is Adam Dalgliesh turned into a rounded persona but, her victims have their share of unpleasantness and even, a psychotic killer has redeeming features.

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.
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LibraryThing member xenchu
A very good mystery by a very good novelist. The mystery had to be explained and the ending was a surprise. All in all, a superior example of a mystery with enough action and enough police procedure to make it well rounded.

The book was well written and the plot was excellent. It is a very good book for mystery fans. I recommend this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member wispywillow
Quite a good read, but the daughter is irritating as all get out. I don't know how many times I wanted to slap some sense into her. Ending was a bit predictable, but the rest was very interesting.
LibraryThing member Gillian-D
My very favorite book by a favorite author. I have re-re-re-read it and re-re-listened to it, and even though the "mystery" is gone, I still appreciate the characters and the legal setting. My personal view (not shared by the author) is that the book has much in common with The Merchant of Venice, e.g., emphasis on blood, character's names, etc.… (more)
LibraryThing member Bookmarque
Well…it started off with a bang. I liked Venitia. I liked her style and her piercing intelligence. And when she died I wanted someone to pay. But no one did. It ended with a whimper. The killer cannot be proven to be the killer and Dalgliesh has to give it up. So unlike him in the past.

James gave us so many suspects, too. My head was spinning to keep them all straight.… (more)
LibraryThing member LARA335
Re-read in 2012. Interesting characters and an unlovable, coldly competant lawyer victim. A who & why dunnit, dissecting class and working relationships.
LibraryThing member eilonwy_anne
Another classic murder mystery from P.D. James. I enjoy how James takes the time to flesh out the incidental characters and the dead-ends of the inquiry. Here the victim is, to me, particularly easy to empathize with, human and flawed (so many murder mysteries kill off either villains or saints.) The daughter subplot keeps the tension up. Inspector Kate Miskin (Dalgliesh's second) got on my nerves a bit this time, but that's no huge matter.… (more)
LibraryThing member reading_fox
One of James' better mysteries, helped I think by the fact that my edition was one of Penguin's newly issued 'old style' covers that evokes a certain nostalga for a world that is passing.

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.
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LibraryThing member AliceAnna
A pretty good story with almost Dickensian plot complications. You really don't ever come to care very much for James' characters, i.e., they aren't very likeable, but that's only because they represent the worst of humankind and represent them well.
LibraryThing member bibleblaster
Picked this up after running across Lisa Scottoline's "Top Ten Books About Justice." I was planning on skimming it for a sermon, but the characters drew me in and I ended up reading the whole thing. "It is good for us to be reminded from time to time that our system of law is human and, therefore, fallible and that the most we can hope to achieve is a certain justice." I'm sure I'll read more in the Dalgliesh series.… (more)
LibraryThing member antao
I too read Asterix comic books that I've read before. The memories of reading them as a child, the familiarity of the characters and the incidents, the dialogue even. Of course, there are lots of reasons why we might want to return to a book. Reading a book again is not just reading it for a second time, it involves a reflexivity: reading your earlier reading of the book (assuming you remember reading it before or if you’ve got a review of that previous reading).

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.
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LibraryThing member wdwilson3
Not my favorite Dalgliesh, by a long shot. Solution and explanation of the murders is more by lengthy exposition by the perpetrators rather than deduction by the investigating team. While James' prose is wonderfully, bleakly, descriptive, as always, a lot of the book is devoted to the inner thoughts of the principals, however irrelevant they may be to the case in hand.… (more)
LibraryThing member cocomom1
Disappointing. Not much Dagliesh and the exposition was long. By the time the murder was solved, it was hard to care.


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