Archive for the ‘P.D. James’ Tag

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


A Sequel for Jane Austen   Leave a comment

I imagine it’s entirely possible to enjoy Death Comes to Pemberley even if, heaven for-
bid, you’ve never read Pride and Prejudice; but I especially appreciate P.D. James’s latest
mystery because I do know about the Bennet and Darcy families. The novel begins six years
after Jane Austen’s Elizabeth and Darcy are married.

A few new minor characters are introduced, but James, for the most part, extends the lives
of those created by Austen in a completely believable manner: the Darcys have two young
boys; Jane and Bingley are regular visitors to Pemberley, the Darcy estate; and Wickham,
the troublemaker in the original work has a similar role, with his wife Lydia not far behind
in her ability to exasperate.

The story begins on the eve of the annual ball overseen by Elizabeth as she continues a
tradition started by Darcy’s mother. The preparations are interrupted when an uninvited,
hysterical Lydia appears believing Wickham has been shot nearby. The characters’ react-
ion to this news, subsequent discoveries, and a trial in London’s Old Bailey are sheer en-
tertainment. In James’s hands, the story is plausible. The characters react just as one
would expect of proper, early 19th century British gentry. Family obligations and public
perceptions dictate their behavior.

The numerous and recent spinoffs, including combining zombies with Pride and Prejudice,
even if only meant to introduce or reacquaint readers to Jane Austin, have never appealed
to me. However, James has created something completely original from classic literature
without diminishing appreciation for Austen’s writing.
Death Comes to Pemberley”
Four Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011
291 Pages