Friday, July 12, 2013

P. D. James Brings a Proper British Mystery into the Mobile WiFi Age

Deathless prose? Yes! But…uh…is there a story here?

“I have never seen a display of flowing, rare verbiage as this author uses!” enthused my BFF. She produced a hardcover copy of The Murder Room and placed it on the white cloth between our warm spinach salads, a specialty of Perry’s Italian Grille. “She has such an extraordinary command of the English language!”
I’m not much for dark, brooding explorations of murder, but knowing my appreciation of British lit in general and language skills in particular, my friend pressed me to borrow it. And so I did. And she was right.

Listen to this description of a piece of Nash art: “Here was a prelapsarian landscape re-created in tranquility and painted in a style which, for all its diversity and originality, was strongly traditional.” (Pg. 26)
I read on, soaking up such breathless phrases as “suspicious fluency,” “spurious conviviality,” “abhorrence of muddle,” until I suddenly got to wondering: Is anything actually happening here?

There was. It snuck up on me whilst I perused the exquisite scene-setting, mood-evoking narrative. It took until Page 117, but it happened. Mrs. Clutton, a bit banged up when a speeding car clips her bicycle on a lonely road, runs unsteadily toward an exploding garage fire. In the same paragraph she sees: “The arm, stuck out of the open car door as stiff as the arm of a scarecrow, had once been flesh, muscle and veins and warm pulsing blood, but was no longer.” Oh, now we’re getting somewhere! Somebody call Bones at the Jeffersonian.
This is, I discovered, an Adam Dalgliesh mystery. Number 12, to be precise. Known by his associates as simply AD, he is the quintessential Scotland Yard detective. And the game’s afoot.

The story revolves around a small private museum specializing in the inter-war years, and the three siblings at odds about running the place. The murder room is one its features. Mrs. Clutton, BTW, is the caretaker who lives in an adjoining cottage.  

P. D. James is well qualified to write this elegantly expressed gore. She spent thirty years in various departments of the British Civil Service, including the Police and Criminal Law Departments of Great Britain's Home Office. She has served as a magistrate and as a governor of the BBC. Most of her twenty (and counting) novels have been filmed and broadcast in the United States and elsewhere. She lives in London and Oxford.

So am I a fan? I am. When I finished the book at 3:13 this morning, I went right online and ordered Cover Her Face, AD #1.

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