03 August 2007

A P. D. James mystery

One day when meeting Jo after lunch, I started reading a P. D. James [at right below] mystery from the library at Village on the Cannon. It took awhile, but I read little bits and pieces, and by about half way through, I wanted to finish it.

The book was Original Sin. (That's a clue, folks, but one of the few you'll get while reading the book. And if you insist on taking it theologically, the clue won't help much.)

Adam Dalgleish [Roy Marsden as Dalgleish below left] is James' star, but while he's obviously the brains of the outfit, he's not on stage as much as his assistants. As a reviewer at the Bastulli Mystery Library says, "...unlike most series, James seems to use her main character just for the needs of the story and not vice versa."

First assistant Kate Miskin and second assistant Daniel Aaron do a lot of the leg work and interviewing, although the master steps in at crucial moments to get the truth from recalcitrant withnesses, resolve conflicts of poorly-skilled parents, or figure out the crucial meaning of ambiguous clues.

James writes extended internal dialogues (even for minor, irrelevant characters) and detailed descriptions of how people travel around London. There are some lectures about the history and character of London's Thames those who live near it. I tried to compare these long-winded descriptions to the romantic word pictures that Tony Hillerman paints of the desert, but I just never got beyond long-winded. Maybe if I was a Londoner who shared James' feelings that living within sight of the Thames in London was epitome of residential achievement, I would have had more patience.

Okay, the story is moderately interesting and complex. A small, 200-year-old publishing company is the center of a suicide and two suspicious deaths that might have been murders.

Most of the characters are well-drawn and the internal monologues do make most of them more than cut outs on a stage.

It's a mystery that you won't figure out until the very end, but that's partly because there is so much detail and so many clues and so many gaps in the details. Perhaps that realistic, but if you enjoy saying "Aha!" about two-thirds of the way through a mystery, you won't get that until the last couple action-pacted chapters.

I don't know whether this is a recommendation or a warning. You'll have to decide for yourself.

Not long after I wrote this, Dan Conrad e-mailed this question. If you have an answer, add it as a comment below or send it to me using this link:

"I read Original Sin several years ago after someone told me P.D. James was absolutely incomparable as a mystery writer. I thought it was pretty good, but not more than that. I next tried Devices and Desires and had the same reaction, and haven't bothered to read another. Is there someone out there who can say: 'these are the one or two best P.D. James novels?' I still think I might be missing something."

Write. Tell a little bit of the world what you think.

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