The setting itself is elemental P. D. James: the bleak coast of East Anglia, where atop a sweep of low cliffs stands the small theological college of St. Anselm’s. On the shore not far away, smothered beneath a fall of sand, lies the body of one of the school’s young ordinands. He is the son of Sir Alred Treves, a hugely successful and flamboyant businessman who is accustomed to getting what he wants—and in this case what he wants is Commander Adam Dalgliesh to investigate his son’s death. Although there seems to be little to investigate, Dalgliesh agrees, largely out of nostal-gia for several happy summers he spent at St. Anselm’s as a boy. No sooner does he arrive, however, than the college is torn apart by a sacrilegious and horrifying murder, and Dalgliesh finds himself ineluctably drawn
into the labyrinth of an intricate and violent mystery.
Here P. D. James once more demonstrates her unrivalled skill in building a classic detective story into a fully realized novel, gripping as much for its psychological and emotional richness as for the originality and complexity of its plotting—and, of course, for the horror and suspense at its heart. Filled with unforgettable characters, brilliant in its evocation of the East Anglian scene and the religious background against which the action takes place, Death in Holy Orders again offers proof, if proof were needed, that P. D. James is not only the reigning master of the crime novel but also, simply, one of the finest novelists writing today.
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Despite challenges from Ruth Rendell and (more recently) Minette Walters, P.D. James's position as Britain's Queen of Crime remains largely unassailable. Although a certain reaction has set in to her reputation (and there are those who claim her poetry-loving copper Adam Dalgliesh doesn't correspond to any of his counterparts in the real world), her detractors can scarcely deny her astonishing literary gifts. More than any other writer, she has elevated the detective story into the realms of literature, with the psychology of the characters treated in the most complex and authoritative fashion. Her plots, too, are full of intriguing detail and studed with brilliantly observed character studies. Who cares if Dalgliesh belongs more in the pages of a book than poking around a graffiti-scrawled council estate? As a policeman, he is considerably more plausible than Doyle's Holmes, and that's never stopped us loving the Baker Street sleuth. Death in Holy Orders represents something of a challenge from James to her critics, taking on all the contentious elements and rigorously reinvigorating them. She had admitted that she was finding it increasingly difficult to find new plots for Dalgliesh, and the locale here (a theological college on a lonely stretch of the East Anglian coast) turns out to be an inspired choice. We're presented with the enclosed setting so beloved of golden age detective writers, and James is able to incorporate her theological interests seamlessly into the plot (but never in any doctrinaire way; the nonbeliever is never uncomfortable). The body of a student at the college is found on the shore, suffocated by a fall of sand. Dalgliesh is called upon to reexamine the verdict of accidental death (which the student's father would not accept). Having visited the College of St. Anselm in his boyhood, he finds the investigation has a strong nostalgic aspect for him. But that is soon overtaken by the realization that he has encountered the most horrific case of his career, and another visitor to the college dies a horrible death. As an exploration of evil--and as a piece of highly distinctive crime writing--this is James at her nonpareil best. Dalgliesh, too, is rendered with new dimensions of psychological complexity. --Barry Forshaw, Amazon.co.ukFrom the Publisher:
10 1-hour cassettes
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