After the atrocity that is Death Comes to Pemberley, I was not particularly interested in reading anymore P.D. James. The combination of dry writing, character deconstruction, and odd asides on early English laws put a bad taste in my mouth. However, my brother insisted I must try more P.D. James, in her own element, and so I checked out Death in Holy Orders.
I’m really glad I did. P.D. James is not trying to be Jane Austen, and she is not under pressure to appease the rabid fans (of which I am a part). She has her own story and her own characters to work with, and her understanding of the English legal system is much more natural in her own stories.
The book starts out with the elderly laundry woman at St. Anselm’s College reminiscing about the recent death of a student, found face down in the deep sand on the beach nearby. She doesn’t last long, but that need not concern us. What does concern us is that the student’s father receives an anonymous note saying that there was more to the student’s death than local police determined. The father, a wealthy, influential man, convinces New Scotland Yard to send Commander Adam Dagliesh to St. Anselm’s to “look into” the matter. Dagliesh goes, and finds more and more secrets buried in every corner of the college…and the body count starts rising…
What I liked so well about this novel is that the characters are so realistically complex. The good characters have dark secrets, the bad have a desperate fragility, and viewpoint is everything when it comes to judging them. Its twists and turns do not make this an easy read, but it’s a very compelling one. I plan on reading the rest of James’ books, and will do so as long as she promises to never ever try to use someone else’s characters ever again.