on 6 September 2010
After having read a spate of mediocre detective fiction, I really enjoyed this one. The quality of the writing is high yet the narrative is easy to read. And, most importantly for such a book, the mystery itself is a great puzzle. The downside is that P.D. James' style of writing tends to leave her giving a lot of page space to develop the characters and when there are a number of 'closed room' suspects this can lead to the pace of the narrative dragging a little. But otherwise, this was a fantastic read.
on 1 October 2015
What a great title. Ask most people to name a PD James novel, and this is probably it.
A gloriously convoluted plot surrounding a Fens village, a forensic science laboratory, and a tightly-knit community linked in ways the reader cannot forsee. The clues are there but each is so fleetingly mentioned, so parsimonious, and so intertwined, that you will forget each and discount its importance. When the senior biologist at Hoggatt’s Laboratory is found dead, New Scotland Yard is called in. Commander Adam Dalgliesh arrives with Detective Inspector John Massingham; it is not the easiest of working partnerships, another layer of grit added to the oyster.
PD James’ observations are at times heart-rending. Of a victim’s elderly father: “The old man sat there, staring straight ahead. His hands, with the long fingers like those of his son, but with their skin dry and stained as withered leavers, hung heavily between his knees, grotesquely large for the brittle wrists.”
The technical detail, at which James is always so reliable, is interleaved here with the writing style I associate with the later Dalgliesh books. On his way to interview a bereaved relative, Dalgliesh stands on high ground and looks towards Hoggatt’s Laboratory. “Under the turbulent painter’s sky, with its changing clusters of white, grey and purple cumulus clouds massing against the pale azure blue of the upper air, and the sunlight moving fitfully across the fields and flittering on roofs and windows, it looked like an isolated frontier outpost, but welcoming, prosperous and secure. Violent death might lurk eastwards in the dark fenlands, but surely not under these neat domestic roofs.” But regular crime readers know that is exactly where crime lurks.
Dalgliesh’s observations, about the process of life and death, the motivation of murder, the role of life of art, of religion, of poetry, are becoming denser in the transition which elevated PD James’ books from crime fiction to literary fiction. There is so much more in her books than murder. “Death, thought Dalgliesh, obliterates family resemblance as it does personality; there is no affinity between the living and the dead.”
on 6 November 2000
P.D. James fittingly wears the crown as "queen of the mystery writers"! And in "Death of an Expert Witness" the title is clearly shown and deserved. Again, James brings in Chief Inspector Adam Dalgleish of Scotland Yard, and once again, this venerable, brilliant, and honorable investigator is in good form. James usually presents a model in human behavior--she's good at this--and gives Dalgleish the full run to work out the inconsistencies, the red herrings, and finally the truth of the case. Dr. Lorrimer is a cold, efficient, dislikeable scientist; now he is a cold, efficient, and dislikeable corpse. Dalgleish must find out why he was killed--and it is more than merely because he was disliked. What did he know that panicked his murderer? After all, he was cold, efficient, dislikeable, and very knowledgeable, "an expert witness," as it were. Bring along a dictionary, as James' vocabulary is challenging--but not distracting--and her works are refreshingly intelligent and worth the effort it may take!(
on 14 September 2003
I love P. D. James but this just wasn't one of her best stories in my humble opinion. I realised who'd done it from the start & the actual motive was sketchy plus the second murder just didn't ring true! An excellent writer such as P. D. James should not have made inconsistency errors but there were a few in there (I can't point them out here because I don't want to spoil the plot!!) If you're a fan, by all means buy it : you won't be disappointed but if you are new to James then try Cover Her Face or An Unsuitable Job for a Woman first!
on 4 June 2014
This is the 6th Adam Dalgliesh book by PD James. Like the 5 that went before it, it feels dated. It was written in 1976/77, so that probably shouldn't be surprising.
In this book, a biologist working for the Forensic Science Service is killed in his lab in East Anglia, and it's Dalgliesh's responsibility to find out who did it, along with the murderer who killed a subsequent person in the book.
Personally, the datedness wasn't that much of a problem for me. What bugged me was that it was a little predictable. These "country house style" mysteries get a little samey after a while, and I've read 6 of PD James' books lately. This said, I suspect that you'll like the book if you haven't read that sort of book in a while (and don't mind the datedness).