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When a detective leaves town   Leave a comment

Even when detectives go on vacation, there’s always a crime scene nearby. What sets Devices and Desires by P.D. James apart from the pack is that Scotland Yard Commander Adam Dalgleish isn’t the one to solve it – at least not overtly.

Dalgleish has inherited his deceased aunt’s house, a converted lighthouse, on England’s Northern coast near a nuclear power plant. He leaves London to work on the house and to consider what to do with it.

A serial killer is on the loose in Norfolk, which keeps tensions taut. Known as “The Whistler”, the killer’s prey are young women. Yet, this is only one of the numerous threads running through the novel. The local authorities acknowledge Dalgliesh’s presence, but are determined to the find the culprit on their own. His eventual involvement is part of the mystery.

Chapters are brief, only one to four pages, and the story covers the period of a few weeks: September 15 to October 6.

The landscape descriptions are vivid, as are the townspeople’s quirks. Dalgliesh figures into many of James’ novels. Here he has just published his second book of poetry, which is less cause for celebration than might be expected. There’s an underlying cynicism regarding this accomplishment by many Dalgliesh comes into contact with.

Other themes include illicit liaisons and the dangers of atomic energy. The large number of characters also weighs down the narrative. Although some are intelligent and interesting, the problem is that there are too many to keep track of.

Devices and Desires

Three bookmarks

Warner Books, 1989

466 pages