It has the familiar comforts of a P D James murder mystery – Dalgliesh is back in action aided by Kate and Aaron. Gore and murder is typical trademark style as the story races to a final climax.
And we learn more about the nature of publishing business and the human frailties abound as everywhere else.
James does not even spare the familiar world of publishing and serves it to us, warts and all. Apart from the power politics that lies at the heart of many ‘family owned’ businesses, James pays a fitting tribute to the insecurities of even vintage writers who worry about losing their talent in a rapidly changing world.
James has mentioned elsewhere that a novelist must be able to stand aside from the experience, view it with detachment, however painful and fashion it into a satisfying shape. Perhaps it is also his ability to assume the role of a privileged spectator, the cold searching gaze which caused Graham Greene to write that every writer has a splinter of ice in the heart. So she paints a charming vignette about an ageing murder mystery writer whose loyal audience has aged along with her and their declining numbers are no longer being replaced by a younger audience. It is indeed a delightful ability of her to set the tale so unemotionally given that she herself is an ageing murder mystery writer. But no fears – we are sure that her popularity is transcending generations as it has done in the past.
Well the murder mystery is about the death of a publisher and the circle of suspects seems to be narrow and primarily within his own organization. James gives us a run down of varying motives and alibis. She puts in plenty of red herrings and throws us off the scent. The final dénouement is possibly not as satisfying as some of her novels but she does sum it up quite logically.
We get to see less of Dalgliesh as the action is run mostly around the suspects and his assistants. But couple of deft interviews are set up for us to savor. Dalgliesh is at his best when he manages to win the trust of a precocious child and one wonders how many of us could have handled the discussion with such finesse. And finally he assuaged the dilemma faced by her single mother, who happens to be a bar-dancer, by saying that the option of sending the child to a boarding school would certainly be a convenient one for her but need not be a wrong one for the child.
The characters have a lot of angst caused by their modern lifestyles and James gives us a bird’s-eye view on the disenchanted and disengaged youth, feminism, clash of personal anxieties against career ambitions, the mindless consumerism and trivialization of sacred relationships.
James has used the device of old sins casting long shadows to varying degrees in her other novels as well such as Shroud for a Nightingale, A Certain Justice, Devices and Desires etc. And in this book she has chosen to use it as a theme by naming the book, ‘Original Sin’.