April 03, 2012

P. D. James, Devices and Desires

This twenty-year-old novel proves once again that P. D. James is truly a master of the mystery genre. In this installment of the Adam Dalgliesh mystery series, her protagonist finds himself on England's sparsely populated headlands to attend to matters of his deceased aunt's estate. Meanwhile England's latest serial killer is on the loose. And his latest victim is an employee at the near-by nuclear power plant that dominates the headland. Though Dalgliesh is off-duty while out in the country, his proximity to events, and his discovery of what seems like the latest victim while walking along the beach involves him in the mysterious events.

This book, like all of James's mysteries, is filled with well-developed characters that give verisimilitude to her stories, that give real humanity to the victims, to those touched by the killings, and even to the suspects. This serves both to give depth to the narrative and to heighten the tension of the mystery, as it makes suspects more interesting but also keeps you guessing as to who the real perpetrator may be. Devices and Desires also contains some great dialogue that probes deeper issues, such as the detective's relationship to death, or the possible continuing relevance of the category of sin, or the possibility of justice in a world full of twisted devices and desires that enmesh our lives. This mystery does not disappoint. It is well written, thoughtfull, and entertaining, and comes to a satisfying conclusion. I highly recommend it.

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