Thursday, November 05, 2009

P.D. James: The Murder Room

I have a feeling I may have read this before - I often get that feeling with these British crime authors, both because I may actually have read them, but also because they are so often televised. It is impossible to imagine the face of Adam Dalgliesh as anything other than that of "his" actor now, of course. Anyway, I took it on a whim and if I've read it it must have been long enough ago for me to forget most of it, so all is well. I see that I have never blogged about a P.D. James book since this one - not surprising since I think my last P.D. James craze was in my teens sometime.

It's one of the newer Jameses, and I believe I said in the previous post that I'm not as fond of them. I somehow feel that they become so centred around Dalgliesh's "new" staff. We've got Inspector Kate Miskin here, who has gone from low class and delapidated housing estate to middle-class, but who can't always let go of the past despite wanting to belong to her new status. She's the most important side-kick in this book, with Tarrant and Benton-Smith as seconds. I'm not sure why I disapprove so much of the new kids on the block. I think I feel it's a bit strained, like James is trying to update the concept but her heart is still with the more classic lone detective genius solving the country house crime? Not that James has ever been that predictable, but she does write sort of in that genre - but well. I think I may just have to re-read a bunch of Jameses and see what the difference is between the books from say the 70s and the ones written now. This one is from 2003. Part of it is probably that she for the sake of realism inserts people that she doesn't (probably) know that much about - homeless people or what have you. I might be unfair, we'll know if I have a binge.

The book starts off with a coincidence - Dalglish is taken to a private museum on the inter-war years, the Dupayne, by a friend. A week later a murder takes place on the premises, and owing to one of the employees having a connection with MI5 it is considered best if Dalgliesh and his special team handles the investigation. We have a narrow set of suspects from the beginning. True to James's style we delve into the minds of all involved, and get just enough hints from the suspects' thoughts to keep us guessing. I wasn't too surprised at who the murderer was, but felt like I had missed some things when she mentions her motive - maybe I wasn't paying attention somewhere, but as it was it felt like loose ends. On the other hand, that's what life is, a bunch of loose ends.

By a coincidence of my own I read this at just about the same time of year as when everything happens in the book. I started reading on Nov. 3 and finished on Nov. 4, and the first victim dies on Nov. 1 in the book. This amused me. Also, in the fictional Murder Room at the museum are displayed real cases from the inter-war years, and snippets of facts from these cases are mentioned, such as that one of the murderers got off largely thanks to a very well-spoken lawyer with a sonorous voice. I think the murder took place in -34. Now, when reading Hare's Tragedy at Law (from 1946) I remember that one of the lawyers is said to have just such a beautiful voice, seducing juries into letting his clients off the hook. I'm thinking that Hare's fictional lawyer is modelled on a very real lawyer then, y'see.

I did like the book, and like I said I might go on a bit of a PD James kick now. She is worth it.

No comments: