Book Review 42: A Mind To Murder by P.D. James

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P.D. James has been given the unofficial title, Queen of Crime, and after reading A Mind to Murder showed why she has earned this moniker.

A Mind to Murder began with the murder of Enid Bolam, the administrative head at the Steen Psychiatric Clinic in London. She had a chisel through her chest and a wooden phallic symbol in her arms. It appeared like we have the main culprits of sex and violence intersecting once again.

When Adam Dalgliesh arrived to investigate the murder, he found out that Miss Bolam was a goody, two-shoes stickler and having that phallic symbol was a ruse put there by the murderer. The detective was put through various twists and turns until the mystery of Miss Bolam’ death was solved at the end of the novel. Even though, that’s a simplistic overview of most mystery novels, James has really elevated the genre to show that literature can emerge from the murder mystery story.

Her ability to write beautiful passages of setting and place, to have excellent narrative flow, to create solid characters and to have the main character’s personality be revealed like a chef peeling an onion has made me want to read the entire Adam Dalgliesh oeuvre.

This is my second Adam Dalgliesh book I have reviewed for the blog. I reviewed Cover Her Face last year and both books have given me a wonderful reading experience even though they were published in the early 1960’s. A Mind To Murder does have its antiquated values interspersed throughout the novel, but James still deals with the universal themes of death, greed, and ambition that we can all relate to.

I can unabashedly recommend A Mind To Murder and I’m already looking forward to reading and reviewing Unnatural Causes, book three of these delightful novels.

Book Review 31: Cover Her Face by P.D. James

After reading and reviewing White Butterfly by Walter Mosley recently, I’ve gained a new appreciation and affinity for the mystery novel. As a result, I’ve decided I will read an entire mystery series over the next year and post the reviews on the blog.

I chose P.D. James’ Adam Dalgliesh novels as the series to read and if Cover Her Face is the beginning leg then I believe I’ve made the right choice.

Cover Her Face is the first Adam Dalgliesh mystery and P.D. James’ first novel. It is a story of a young, vivacious, free-spirited woman named Sally Jupp who was murdered at an English country estate. Sally worked for the Maxie family who owned the estate and the rest of the novel is spent trying to figure out who killed her.

Well, P.D. James has turned the standard mystery plot from a whodunit to a whydunit and after reading the story I could see the elements that has given her the title, “Queen of Crime.”

One of the most interesting things I noticed in Cover Her Face was that Adam Dalgliesh didn’t dominate the novel.  It felt like he was more of a guiding hand to make sure the story didn’t go off course.  Dalgliesh doesn’t appear until Chapter Four and the way he interacted with the other characters seemed rather routine and matter-of-factly.

However, I wasn’t put off by it and I’m wondering in later Dalgliesh mysteries if his personality will have more of a presence in those stories.

The other interesting thing I noticed is that P.D. James can write beautifully descriptive narrative passages. While I wouldn’t put her in Mark Helprin’s class of writing beautifully, she can definitely hold her own and Cover Her Face read more like a literary novel than a mystery novel.

Even though, Cover Her Face was published in 1962 it read like a valuable antique that has never gone out of style. I have added this book to the best novels I’ve read in 2012 (The Opposite of Art & The Book Thief).