P. D. JAMES – Original Sin. Adam Dalgleish #9. Alfred A. Knopf, US, hardcover, 1995. Warner, paperback, 1996. First published in the UK by Faber & Faber, hardcover, 1994.

   P. S. James was for many years one of my favorite authors, but has been less so in the last several. I’m tempted to say that her books have dropped off in quality, but perhaps of late she’s simply gone in directions that haven’t been as much to my liking.

   Peverall Press is England’s oldest private publisher, and it’s i a state of turmoil. The two old heads of the firm are gone, one dead, one retired, and the new Director is bringing the firm into the modern age, accompanied by swarms of anguish and rage by those he’s stepped on and discarded.

   Some nasty and harmful pranks have been played, obviously by someone within the firm who has so far eluded detection. One of the discards has suicided on the premises, but this will not be the last death. The next will be murder, and Commander Adam Dalgleish of Scotland Yard will enter the case.

   One tends to forget just how excellent crafter of prose James truly is. At least I had, and now I’m reminded that she has few peers in this regard. The present story could have been told in many fewer words, but that wouldn’t have been a P. D. James story; she is not a minimalist.

   Dalgleish is much less involved in the narrative that he has been in the past, and it’s obvious that he focus has broadened, It’s also obvious that she is less concerned with whodunit, and more so with character, and not just the character of the principals (though of course they are the primary focus) but that of many lesser players as well.

   Some of this was clearly unnecessary to the playing out of the story proper, and how much you approve will be a matter of individual preference. It’s a densely textured book, and one that demands attention, not a “quick read.” For all the depth of characterization, I’m not sure I believed that one player would have behaved at the end as he/she did, but that’s my only cavil. I thought this was fine novel.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #18, February-March 1995.