Every murder mystery writer worth his salt has done a story based on a desolate island – a device that heightens the suspense as the circle of suspects is narrow and their interpersonal dynamics gain a rough edge of strong emotions.
James finally gives us a murder mystery set in a small island that is meant to serve as a private resort where its battle weary visitors can gain some solitude and revive their spirits. In a matter-of-fact manner James makes no bones of the stress the distinguished visitors face as the price to be paid for getting to the top.
We are back to a murder mystery adventure involving the privileged class and set in a unique locale of a lighthouse on a desolate island known to provide solace and privacy to its visitors. It is a familiar hunting ground for Adam Dalgliesh and Kate Miskin as they set about unravelling hidden secrets and discover a sordid past.
James is strong as ever in setting the scene and drawing the characters. But even she uses a bit of stock-in-trade and Lady Emily Holcombe reminds one of Lady Ursula Berowne from the classic novel, ‘A Taste for Death’. (Her devoted manservant Roughtwood is indeed a replacement of Gordon Halliwell). Her philosophy and approach in protecting her interests and privacy is a remarkable comment on the assurance of the élite.
The novel begins with the mystery surrounding the death of a celebrated writer, Nathan Oliver, who is found to be hanging from the Lighthouse. The readers are well aware that this is bound to be murder – what else can it be in a murder mystery involving Adam Dalgliesh. But the prime story is about the victim’s personality and his past – again a rerun of James’ familiar credo that the reasons for a victim’s death lie in his life. And we have enough available for motive as the red herrings are laid in craftily for us to discover.
The victim is shown to be strong-willed and selfish character who is unfeeling and malicious while pursuing his art relentlessly to achieve professional success and personal renown. James creates complex characters at will but she has deftly managed to alienate our sympathies for the victim.
James has kept up with the modern times and we get introduced to topical incidents involving SARS (even Adam Dalgliesh falls prey to it) and a nuanced stance by the author with reference to the LGBT community.And then we have Benton-Smith, Anglo-Indian to our minds as his mother is an Indian who is married to a Brit. We have a touching but fleeting mention of his childhood trips to India. He shows a rare mix of sensitivity and ruthlessness, we need to look at that positively on similar lines like ‘tough love’. Yet, in the midst of the modernity, it is rather clever of her to ensure that there is limited connectivity on the island, so mobiles are not available to hamper the settings of a traditional murder mystery.
The character of Dalgliesh has progressed along with his love story for Emma – the final scenes have all the signs of an imminent wedding. Dalgliesh permits himself to show some emotions and he seems to have mellowed with age. But it could also be a sign that the series is drawing to an end and there won’t be many more adventures involving him. (Am not very wrong in saying this as eventually we have had only one more Adam Dalgliesh novel from James – The Private Patient.)