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Loss of Momentum
on 25 November 2008
I wish I could give 5 stars to this, probably the last PD James mystery featuring the stalwart yet sensitive Commander Adam Dalgleish. Most of the book was 5 star material, with the winning PD James formula of isolated setting, cast of improbably named suspects, a gruesome murder or two, and meandering setting description with words like "minatory", "gule" and "subvention" cropping up early and often to establish once again the author's literary bona fides. (Emma wears not a jacket, but a jerkin, as we are reminded three times in three pages.) The final 80 pages were however a disappointment, a rushed flurry of events, interviews with newly found characters appended in too-neat resolution. The ending seemed hardly connected to the build-up that preceded it. If a mystery lacks a satisfying conclusion, all the previous story-telling seems futile. Sorry to say, I have seen a loss of momentum in PD James's last several mysteries. She takes pains to keep up with the times, but her unnecessary subplot about lesbians is so painstakingly tolerant, so jarring, so entirely lacking in narrative reality. The effort to be open-minded is always just that - an effort, and the display of faux acceptance self-consciously calls attention to itself because it rings false and extraneous to the story. Poor Dalgleish, as I remember from earlier novels, was always more interesting as a solitary poet/police officer. Since he acquired a continuing romantic interest, the incongruously young Emma Lavenham, he has become too comfortably uxorious. His depth has dissipated. The detective sidekicks, Miskin and Benton, while again politically correct, are never as interesting as was Dalgleish at his philosophical best. Dare I add that the dialogue is simply not believable? Only in a PD James novel do characters speak in such perfectly shaped paragraphs.