RogerBW's Blog

A Mind To Murder, P. D. James 16 June 2018

1963 detective fiction, second of James's novels of Inspector Adam Dalgliesh. In a London psychiatric clinic that's still adjusting to being part of the NHS, the unpopular chief administrator is stabbed in the heart. Any of the staff could have done it, and most of them had reason to; but who is guilty?

To my mind there are rather too many of them for any of their personalities to become fully developed, but they're soon sorted into the first and second ranks of suspects. Nobody here seems to be happy, much as in Cover Her Face; they're stupid, rigid, social climbing, sleeping with people they shouldn't be, not sleeping with people they shouldn't be but feeling bad about it, and so on.

Dr. Etherege slowly traced the line of his right eyebrow with his middle finger. Dalgliesh had seen him do this on television and reflected, now as then, that it served to draw attention to a fine hand and a well-shaped eyebrow even if as an indication of serious thought the gesture seemed slightly spurious.

For all James decried psychological murder mysteries in her first novel, that's certainly what this one is. With all these broken people, one is challenged to work out which of them is broken in such a way as to murder.

He had also heard of Mr. X's book, an opus of some two hundred thousand words in which the scabrous episodes are inserted with such meticulous deliberation that it only requires an exercise in simple arithmetic to calculate on what page the next will occur. Dalgliesh did not suspect X of any part in the murder. A writer who could produce such a hotchpotch of sex and sadism was probably impotent and certainly timid. But he was not necessarily a liar.

There are some more conventional clues to solve too, mostly in terms of who was where when, who might have had access to particular information, and so on. The resolution combines both, and although there's a clear "you should have solved this by now" signal, the book isn't over at that point.

Dalgliesh himself is still something of a cipher: he mourns his dead wife, he has neuralgia, he fancies someone who was a suspect in a previous case but hasn't done anything about it. (And this is the early 1960s, so he has to, really; she can't make the running.) He's a collection of these traits more than he is a person.

There's interesting period detail about the developing NHS, where each clinic might still have its own management committee but was subject to higher authority. (And when LSD therapy and ECT sat side by side.) And a surprising moment for me when someone wonders why a cat isn't "let" (i.e. put) out at night; yeah, OK, I suppose that did still happen as late as the 1960s.

Not at all a cheerful book, and I could really have done with some more sympathetic characters, but it holds together and some of the character portraiture is excellent. Followed by Unnatural Causes.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog. ["As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases."]

Previous in series: Cover Her Face | Series: Adam Dalgliesh | Next in series: Unnatural Causes

  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 04:58pm on 16 June 2018

    Cats are still put out at night where my parents live in Yorkshire.

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action advent of code aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio audio tech aviation base commerce battletech beer boardgaming book of the week bookmonth chain of command children chris chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup covid-19 crime crystal cthulhu eternal cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi economics en garde espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 essen 2018 essen 2019 essen 2022 essen 2023 existential risk falklands war fandom fanfic fantasy feminism film firefly first world war flash point flight simulation food garmin drive gazebo genesys geocaching geodata gin gkp gurps gurps 101 gus harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo 2019 hugo 2020 hugo 2021 hugo 2022 hugo 2023 hugo 2024 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life javascript julian simpson julie enfield kickstarter kotlin learn to play leaving earth linux liquor lovecraftiana lua mecha men with beards mpd museum music mystery naval noir non-fiction one for the brow opera parody paul temple perl perl weekly challenge photography podcast politics postscript powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha python quantum rail raku ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs ruby rust scala science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance the weekly challenge thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel type 26 type 31 type 45 vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1