sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

September 26, 2011

into the stacks: a taste for death
posted by soe 2:31 am

I’m way behind on my book reviews, but figured I’d start off with the one I just finished. Still to come are reviews of The Woman in White, Diamond Ruby, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, 13 Little Blue Envelopes, and Ninth Ward.

A Taste for Death, by P.D. James

From the jacket: “Their throats slit, the two men have turned the old vestry of St. Matthew’s Church red with blood. In death united, in life no men could have been more disparate: one a baronet and minister of the Crown; the other an alcoholic derelict. Commander Adam Dalgliesh believes that a single thread connects the two lives, one that will lead him to the killer. Instead, he soon finds himself following a tangled skein of lofty emotions and base ambitions into Britain’s enigmatic upper class — and into a labyrinth of ever-widening scandal and murder without end…”

My take: Commander Adam Dalgliesh has been named to head up a special division at Scotland Yard — one that investigates serious crimes that needed to be handled delicately, such as those of a political nature. Chief Inspector John Massingham and Inspector Kate Miskin round out the higher echelon of the team. Called to a Paddington church to investigate the deaths of a homeless man and a baronet, the team finds their first case seems to offer the initial and obvious answer that the rich man murdered the poor one and then killed himself with his own straight razor. However, the case seems to be a little too pat for Dalgliesh, who had a passing acquaintance with Sir Paul Berowne. With underlings in tow, they investigate everyone remotely involved with the man, from his beautiful wife (who is carrying on with an obstetrician) to his estranged daughter (who is dating a known Marxist) to his haughty mother to his local party officials. Following up on two other deaths loosely tied to Berowne convince Dalgliesh that he is correct that a murderer is on the loose. But with everyone trying to hide something, will he be able to find the guilty party in time?

I picked this up at a library book sale, part of their “fill a bag” day. If I’d had to pay for it, I might not have picked it up. And, frankly, that might not have been a bad thing.

I like cozies. I like police procedurals that are light on grisly crime and heavy on keeping peace among quirky characters. I prefer mysteries that are light and read quickly and that offer me a happy ending. I am happy to work to figure out the whodunnit, and even happier if the author has outwitted me at the reveal (provided that I can see where I should have sussed out the criminal). And I want my books to have plot lines that are wrapped up at the end of the novel and not left dangling, leaving you to wonder if the author bothered to re-read her text before sending it in and whether the decline in editing you’ve noticed recently could possibly date back as far as 1986 to when this novel was published.

It took me a month to wallow through the description and elevated language of this novel, and I sympathized greatly with the detectives, who were busy sorting through a lot of useless details in search of the actual narrative of a man’s final weeks. Some characters (particularly a romance novelist constituent of Berowne’s) are well developed, but far too many others (such as Lady Berowne) are only lightly adapted sketches of common archetypes.

I don’t know whether this work is indicative of James’ abilities in general or her Dalgliesh series in specific or an anomaly in an otherwise stellar career. However, it definitely has left me disinterested in finding out more, and that would seem to be a flaw in any mystery series.

Pages: 497

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