Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Dalgliesh Takes on A Publishing House P.D. James's Hero Investigates Two Deaths with Aplomb, but Readers May Want to See More of Him in Latest Novel

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Dalgliesh Takes on A Publishing House P.D. James's Hero Investigates Two Deaths with Aplomb, but Readers May Want to See More of Him in Latest Novel

Article excerpt

THE only sin P.D. James commits in her otherwise flawless novel "Original Sin" is one of omission: There simply isn't enough of her moody protagonist, Adam Dalgliesh.

But the book is so well filled with an intriguing cast of characters in a lush, evocative setting that the sin is a venial one at best.

When the body of senior editor Sonia Clements is found in the archive room at Peverell Press, the directors of the old and distinguished London firm are upset, but at least they can cling to the knowledge that hers was definitely a suicide. They are also hoping that this death will put an end to some earlier troubling events - manuscripts being changed, illustrations being lost.

In fact, the entire atmosphere at Peverell Press has been filled with tension since the death of old Mr. Henry Peverell, who had run the press in a benevolent but not financially sound manner. And now the press is being brought kicking and screaming into the present by its new director, Gerard Etienne. His dismissals and other cost-cutting methods are necessary, but done with a heartless flair.

One of his most shocking suggestions is that the press sell its home, Innocent House, a vast and stately mock-Venetian palace located on the banks of the Thames, and move to more practical offices. The sole remaining Peverell, a young woman named Frances, who works at the press and also lives in an adjoining building, cannot bear the thought.

But when Gerard Etienne is also found dead in the archive room, two facts emerge. The death is definitely murder, and Frances is hardly the lone suspect.

Etienne is found with the head of a stuffed snake (an office mascot) jammed into his mouth, and once Commander Dalgliesh asks the deceptively simple question - what is the snake doing there? - events, lives, and secrets begin to unravel.

P.D. James brings her usual trademarks to this new Dalgliesh case. She loves to set characters inside an institution - be it a publishing house or a nursing home - and set them upon each other with the catalyst of murder.

James's writing is as stately and elegant as ever. Sometimes you'll come across an impossibly long sentence (the second sentence in the book, for example, runs eight lines) and marvel at how controlled and clear it is. …

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