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The Murder Room: An Adam Dalgliesh Mystery    by P. D. James order for
Murder Room
by P. D. James
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2003 (2003)
Hardcover, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In her eighties, P. D. James has written eighteen books. A formidable intelligence shines through her writing - in plotting, backgrounds and characterization. As usual, she gives Adam Dalgliesh and cohorts an intriguing self-contained setting for death. In this case it's the obscure private Dupayne museum that focuses on the years between the world wars and is known for its Murder Room (which features notorious crimes).

The author carefully sets the stage for the first death, introducing a variety of interesting, uniquely English, types. There are the squabbling (two against one) Dupayne siblings, in conflict over whether or not to keep the museum open. Dying curator James Calder-Hale has links to MI5. Another volunteer was in her youth one of the brave and beautiful young women spies parachuted into occupied France. There's a secretary with a difficult personality, a gay, troubled young gardener named Ryan, and the lonely old housekeeper who mothers him.

Then comes the first death, with echoes from an earlier Murder Room killing. Is it a copycat and, in this closed cast of characters, whodunit? That's the cue for poet/detective Adam Dalgliesh to move to center stage, with his merry men (Piers and the new Francis Benton-Smith) and woman (Kate) subordinates. We see Dalgliesh a little subdued in this episode as he juggles the voracious demands of his job with his desire to develop his relationship with the lovely Emma. He's pulled in even deeper when the murderer strikes again ... and again.

I enjoyed the advocacy for museums - 'A museum is about life ... the individual life ... the corporate life of the times ... the continuing life of the species' - as well as the author's exploration of her society's class divisions and resentments, and the surprises she throws in to enliven the plot. I recommend The Murder Room to Anglophiles as an excellent classic murder mystery, and vintage James.

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