Busy times tend to mean more crime in reading terms for me, and there are few better at the top of the game than PD James in her pomp. She is as quintessentially English as her main detective leading man, Adam Dalgleish – and incredibly adept at bringing villages, towns and hamlets and their residents to full and characterful life. In that way, and in the dexterity of her plotting and denouements, she is in a direct line from Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers.
This is particularly rich in bringing the coastal place of Larksoken to life, and manages to weave nuclear power, a serial killer, retirement, artists, cooks and radical activism into a heady broth that comes to the boil nicely in the last seventy or eighty pages. Before that, there is much to enjoy – the cold intelligence of the Mair siblings; the savvy smartness of Theresa, the child replacing her mother; the quiet observance of Dalgleish, who is not in charge of the investigations. And much more besides. Even as layers are added to layers, James still manages to keep the pages turning, which is no mean feat.
And the unknotting of the plotting (you’re welcome) is exquisitely done: right to the last few moments, I still had several contenders in the frame, and was convinced I knew who’d done it on a few different occasions. And Dalgleish is a wonderful creation – calm, insightful, suggestive, elegant and with a cool intelligence. Although he sits almost alongside the Marion plot and investigation here, but remains the primary influence on the book. Wonderful, distracting stuff.
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