Wednesday, 12 June 2013

A taste for death

by P. D. James
Adam Dagliesh mysteries no7
Vintage - (reprint edition ) 2005
480 pages - 15.95 $

Why this book

Well, mostly because a friend gave it to me and also because it's a crime fiction and the name P. D. James was not unknown to me even if I had never read a book from her. 


When the quiet Little Vestry of St. Matthew's Church becomes the blood-soaked scene of a double murder, Scotland Yard Commander Adam Dalgliesh faces an intriguing conundrum: How did an upper-crust Minister come to lie, slit throat to slit throat, next to a neighborhood derelict of the lowest order? Challenged with the investigation of a crime that appears to have endless motives, Dalgliesh explores the sinister web spun around a half-burnt diary and a violet-eyed widow who is pregnant and full of malice--all the while hoping to fill the gap of logic that joined these two disparate men in bright red death. . . .

What I think of it

I found with pleasure the quaint charm of Victorian crime fiction - like in Anne Perry or Agatha Christie - the very decorated mansions, the traditional tea and sandwiches ... For that matter, PD James is very good to bring us into her world. The descriptions are very well done, very realistic, the vocabulary is precise, concise, so it is very easy to imagine the room, the scene or picture the scene described.

The strength of the author, however, is what I least liked in the novel. I'm not a fan of endless and recurring descriptions and this is a very large part of the book. The arrival of Dalgliesh in the widows's lover clinical takes several pages ... no juicy, scathing dialogues full of innuendo as I hoped, but descriptions of each piece Adam passes through, people encountered, paintings on the walls - and not to miss visuals - even what Dalgliesh sees through the window: the gardens of the clinic ie, a patient who walks with a nurse. 

The description is worth, however, when PD James draws a portrait of English high society, but also of gender relations or old age and its implications for the family. The analysis of characters and relationships is so very well done, this is obviously a strong point with the author.

That said, we know the murderer fairly quickly thanks in part to how well the author make us feel the unspoken and discomfort during interrogations - and partly because the Commander Dalgliesh announce it before the end . So no resounding end, not "damn I've never seen it", no reversals shock situations, but still there is a time when one begins to fear for potential victims.

Let's be brief

This is a book where you find the famous British phlegm, but not the famous British humor - as found in the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, for example - to liven up a bit. This is a must read if you prefer the atmosphere to actions and if descriptions delight you. This is a very classical novel, the characters are very well described, but not enough original or spirited to be left with a lasting impression.

Good to know

The novel was awarded the Silver Dagger in 1986. As for P. D. James, she is, according to the Times, the biggest writer of detective novels of our time ...

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