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4.3 out of 5 stars46
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 30 October 2000
Set on a lonely stretch of the Dorset coast in the mid-Seventies, The Black Tower is an unusual crime thriller. Although it functions perfectly well as a conventional whodunit, it's also a modern gothic, and, like its predecessors in that genre, it's a meditation on mortality and human frailty. Much of the book's power derives from James's scrupulous exploration of the character and states of mind of her hero. The poet-policeman, Commander Adam Dalgleish, is a subtle and compelling creation, and his substantiality helps to ground a plot that might otherwise seem to teeter on the brink of melodrama.
The tone is set with the 'resurrection' of Dalgleish, who as the book begins is recovering from a serious illness, which initially had been misdiagnosed as mortal. This brush with death has had a profound psychological impact on Dalgleish, and his decision to make his convalescence coincide with a duty visit to an old acquaintance seems from the first an attempt to postpone a confrontation with his own unanswered questions.
Disenchanted with policing Dalgleish may be, but when he is confronted with the merest suspicion of foul play, his instincts reassert themselves in spite of his inclinations. The atmosphere of illness, frustrated hopes, and impending disaster gathers force with every page as Dalgleish, against his will, is drawn deeper into the poisoned community of Toynton Grange.
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on 24 September 2011
The novel is certainly well written and is an intelligent thriller. As one would expect from PD James, the characters are intereting and well rounded. I particularly liked the ending where she plays a little game with the reader, casting just a scintilla of doubt about whether Dalgleish really did experience it all. But what I did not like was the continuous stream of typographical errors, many of them originating from what I assume was the scanning of the text into the kindle format. For example, cliff might become diff and so on. It is this sort of irritating error that makes one prefer the real, paper artefact.
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on 20 August 2015
A sinister mystery this, partly location, and partly the feeling that Dalgliesh is not operating at the full capacity of his deductive powers. He has been ill and goes to Dorset to convalesce, to visit an elderly friend. His love and energy for detecting are muted, there are hints he may not continue.
On arrival in Dorset he finds his friend, Father Baddeley has died. Dalgliesh is inevitably drawn into the daily life at Toynton Hall, the care home at which the Father was chaplain. All is not as it seems. Baddeley’s was not the first death. But Dalgliesh looks at clues and is unusually reticent, unmotivated, tired.
This is an intricate story set in a strange community with overtones of religious fervour, financial difficulties, disabilities not clearly explained, relationships tangled, past stories and resentments lurking beneath the surface.
I am re-reading PD James in order and with this, the fifth in the series, she seems to be getting into the rhythm which those familiar with the last of the Dalgliesh books will recognise. Dalgliesh is oddly denuded in this book, giving us an insight into his character we have not have seen before, we see beneath the professional face: he has been ill, is tired, less patient, and the mask of his profession sometimes slips. Fascinating, a hint of the detective into which he will evolve in the later books.
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on 1 December 2014
Least enjoyable of the Dalgleish novels. It is written with Dalgleish being in a potentially career/life changing time and with him not leading his team following procedure. PDJ is even handed in her novels in that all the supporting cast are always flawed and unpleasant in their own ways. This is always combined with a strong link between the physical descriptions and assigned characters (e.g. tall slim characters are intelligent and aloof independent types, then there are the sturdy reliable sidekicks, and so on). Where it makes uncomfortable reading is when all the chronically sick are mean and selfish or pathetically needy and self obsessed. I wish that PDJ had on this occasion included a altruistic decent character, whether or not they were one of the chronically ill, to lighten the feel of the book.

I wish I had been reading one of the better Dalgleish novels when PDJ's death was announced, the series novels are usually formulaic enjoyable period detective stories.
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on 11 August 2014
The plot is absorbing and the setting very unusual and atmospheric. The Dalgleish in this book is not the usual one either, but a weakened character recovering from a serious illness and considering leaving the police force. The theme of frailty is mirrored in the main characters and where most of them live - in a home for the disabled not far from a ruined tower.
The frustration felt by Dalgleish at not being his usual, masterful and confident self and his general disillusionment comes across well, but some of the main characters were rather eccentric, straining credulity a bit. Also, the method used for the murders and the motive for them (no spoilers here) seemed a bit dated as the book was written in the seventies.
While this is not her best book in terms of plausibility, it deserves four stars for being well written and just as much of a "page-turner" as her other books.
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on 4 June 2014
This book, the 5th in the Adam Dalgliesh series, wasn't a bad read. It's set in a private nursing home where terminally ill patients and their Church of England priest die semi-unexpectedly within a few weeks of each other. Dalgliesh happened to be there because he was a friend of the priests, and happened to be invited to come and stay just before the priest died.

I've said this about a number of early James books, and it bears repeating here. The book themselves aren't bad, but they do feel dated. They're set in England at a certain time in history (the late 1960s, and early 1970s), and speak to a certain style that we're probably not that interested in any more. If you can put up with that, you'll enjoy these books. If you can't I wouldn't bother reading them.
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on 13 August 2015
Great read; I love the way PD James allows you as a reader to experience the environment/scenery as well follow the story through the senses of her characters. If you like this one there are another 13 Adam Dalgliesh books to choose from - I have not been disappointed in any. I find her books improve my vocabulary as she uses the English language so well - there are always words I have to look up and then think "that is a good use of the word". HOWEVER although the Amazon description states that the Kindle Edition "contains real pages" ie reading progress can be set to pages rather than location this is NOT the case. Helpful Amazon are going to deal with this problem.
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on 9 April 2014
PDJ returns to Adam Dalgliesh after the first Cordelia Gray book and it is rather different from the earlier books. It is set in a private nursing home and Dalgliesh is there in a private capacity as a guest. The story unfolds slowly and there is a great deal of time spent on the individual characters, most of whom are rather unsympathetic. The ending is rather unsatisfactory as Dalgliesh has a flash of inspiration, which has little to do with what has gone on before. Not a typical Dalgliesh but worth reading despite the sleight of hand.
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on 25 March 2013
P.D. James is such a wonderful author. She has a gift for getting the reader engrossed in her highly intelligent and ingenious plots right from the word go. Her narratives are simply stunning.

This particular book is one of my favourites. The characters and setting are second-to-none. Difficult to get up to make tea when so deeply absorbed by it.
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on 7 December 2003
what a fantastic book. One of my absolute favourite adam dalgliesh mysteries. The classic 'whodunnit', the surprise ending will satisfy, and getting there is exciting too!
you will not be disappointed!
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