Original Sin (Adam Dalgliesh Mystery Series #9)

by P. D. James

Hardcover, 1995

Call number





Alfred A. Knopf (1995), Edition: 1st American ed, 416 pages


"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."--Page 4 of cover.… (more)

Media reviews

One of James's most successful meldings of the old-fashioned whodunit onto the novel of character--a Middlemarch of the classic detective story.
1 more
James (Devices and Desires) gives pride of place here to lush, leisurely descriptions of waterside London and the landscape of the Essex coast; Dalgleish and his assistants seem more observers than participants in this plot that ticks along on its own momentum, driven by the various suspects'
Show More
motivations and actions to the credible, if not fully prepared for, resolution.
Show Less

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
Show More
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.
Show Less
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 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 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
Show More
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?
Show Less
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
Show More
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.
Show Less
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
Show More
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.
Show Less
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.
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
Show More
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.
Show Less
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
Show More
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
Show Less
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
Show More
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.
Show Less
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
Show More
detail, too much character development and less action. I guess that's why I like her. I will definitely read more of her stuff.
Show Less
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
Show More
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.
Show Less
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 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 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 JosephKing6602
Good descriptive writing; complicated plot-line
LibraryThing member janerawoof
Interesting because of setting of murder. Much too long: at 400+ pages. Everyone seemed to have motives except the villain where all tumbled out at once in final chapters.
LibraryThing member ElizabethCromb
Written before a lot of our technology existed so the story line was somewhat dated.
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
Show More
described in too much depth.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
I remember buying this on the day it was published, and am dumfounded now to realise that that that that was almost thirty years ago. Re-reading it now, I couldn’t remember any of the details of the plot, and had certainly forgotten who the murderer was, although I did have a recollection of
Show More
having especially enjoyed it. That was borne out by this re-reading, and I think it may well be my favourite of P D James’s books.

I have always had a particular taste for fiction about the world of books, so this was always going to appeal to me, with the story being set in an old publishing house. Peverell Press claimed to be the country’s oldest publisher, having been established in a glorious reproduction of a Venetian palazzo on the eastern reaches of the Thames. It had remained entirely under the control of the Peverell family until just after the Second World War, when a hero of the French resistance had bought a significant share, introducing much needed working capital. Now his son, Gerard Etienne, is managing director and his daughter Claudia is also on the Board, along with Frances, last of the Peverells, Gabriel Dauntsey, an ageing formerly venerated poet, and James de Witt, an accomplished literary critic.

Gerard Etienne has ambitious plans for the company, but they involve a programme of radical modernisation and ‘downsizing’, and he has stirred up considerable animosity both among his fellow directors and more widely across the company’s workforce. His ardour for reform is not damped by a series of ‘pranks’ that have caused slight reputational damage to the company. However, the tide of change is stemmed when he is found dead in the company’s archive room, with a fabric draught excluder in the shape of a snake tied around his neck, its head thrust into his mouth. It is at this point that Commander Adam Dalgleish is called in, ably assisted by his Detective Inspectors Kate Miskin and Daniel Aaron.

P D James always writes well-crafted prose, and organises the plot development in a closely managed method. I always find her books reminiscent of those of Iris Murdoch – the principal characters are always slightly odd, and approach day to day life in a rather oblique manner. One sometimes imagines that the linguistic style is of greater significance than the substance of the story. However, in both cases, I find that it works. I happily suspend my disbelief, and where with less accomplished writers I might roll my eyes impatiently, I am content to go wherever they might take me.
Show Less





0679438890 / 9780679438892
Page: 0.7728 seconds