on 1 March 2007
I too thought this was among PD James's best. I love the way she builds a group of characters, all with a motive for murder. It soon becomes obvious who will be the first victim, but I didn't guess the identity of the murderer. My husband, though, picked up clues I missed and hence found the book marginally formulaic. Even so, he still enjoyed it.
I found myself reading until one o'clock in the morning, unable to put it down. There's human interest, too, in the lives of the three detectives - enough to make them more real than some of the automatons who inhabit this genre.
For an absorbing and easy read, I'd thoroughly recommend it.
It's not as it appears to be, Adam Dalgliesh ponders. The erstwhile, inimitable, and highly respected detective (and poet) of Scotland Yard is dispatched with his two team members to investigate a death on the island of Combe.
Having danced around and with MI-5 in levels beyond most policemen's pay grades, Dalgliesh knows there's more to this scene than meet the eye.
In Dame P.D. James' thirteenth Dalgliesh book, readers can (rightfully so) expect "more of the same" from both the author and her policeman--intriguing story, excellent characterizations, and riveting plot. It's vintage P.D. James and long may she rule.
Combe is an island off the Cornish coast, with a long and rich history of isolation, peace, and even intrigue. Famed--and cranky, even impossible--novelist Nathan Oliver is found hanged at the landmark Combe lighthouse. Scotland Yard (and Dalgliesh) is taking no chances, as Combe is a haven for secrecy, especially in high diplomatic circles (and Dalgliesh knows of such circles from previous encounters).
And in traditional James style, there is much, much more than meets the eye. The dead man is far from being beloved, even by his own daughter who's on the island with him, as they ponder his next novel. Character after character, it is revealed, has more than a basic motive to kill him. The police waste no time in ascertaining that Oliver's death is not a suicide but a murder. But who's the guilty one?
Dalgliesh and his two assistants (Miskin and Benton-Smith) set out diligently--and, of course, brilliantly--and as the pace picks up noticeably, clues fall into place and, needless to say, Dalgliesh wins again. But that's a foregone conclusion to the multitude of James fans. Adam doesn't fail. Period.
That said, of course, the brilliance of James' writing always leaves one in awe; already readers are ready for the next installment of the Dalgliesh genre. No one's better than James.
Still, aside from the "whodunit" approach, James manages to keep the pace with the nuances and subtleties of the characters' personal lives. For many readers' satisfaction, James has toned down Dalgliesh's "love life" (after all, who really cares--just get on with the man we all love to watch brilliantly--and sensitively--solve the cases, one by one.). James is superb and doesn't need the inane distraction here. The inter-play between Miskin and Benton-Smith are more appropriate, as Dalgliesh's subordinates come and go anyway.
An excellent read (Don't forget your dictionary, however, as James, as ever, gives us an adventure, too, into extending our vocabulary. Just keeping up with her, even with a dictionary, is a joyous ride! Her literary allusions are also pleasures to read.).
P.D. James is one of world's most respected mystery-writers. She is one of the last, and certainly the greatest, of the world's writers of classic detective mysteries. She's the last because the genre has largely gone out of fashion (mostly due to the limited range of things which can be done within it), and she's the greatest because she alone still stands diligently by it and does find new and innovative things to flex the form. She single-handedly imbues the golden age detective story with a muscular and persuasive strength that means her variations, almost alone, are able to stand up to the new forms of crime fiction. Not just that: any kinds of fiction.
The privately owned island of Combe, just off the Cornish coast, has been turned into a place of rest and sanctuary for people - necessarily rich ones - who wish to escape the stresses of their normal every-day lives. As such it is insular, offers almost unlimited privacy, and has a very small staff. Immediately, here is the classic James setting: isolated, full of history, slightly sinister, coming complete with a small clutch of interesting suspects. It's obvious, then, that when acclaimed - and abrasive - writer Nathan Oliver starts trouncing around the island antagonising the other residents and guests, that a murder is going to occur some-time soon... And so it does. One misty morning Oliver is found hanging from the top of the island's lighthouse. And there's no shortage of people who may have wanted him dead...
Nathan was not a popular character. Manipulative for the purposes of his fiction (he loves to observe in order to write... the worst of these instances when he tipped retired priest and ex-alcoholic Adrian Brodey off the wagon and into turmoil) and selfish, he's made himself no fans. He's been trying to oust elderly Emily Holcombe, last of the Holcombe family, from her cottage and is demanding it for himself. He's caused a heated fracas with another visitor, Dr Mark Yelland, a research scientist a character in Oliver's new book bears a strikingly unpleasant resemblance to. He's forbidden his daughter's marriage to his copy-editor, and has created a whole host of other petty enmities. The question, though, is any of them important enough to be a motive for murder? Or is it something else entirely?
Despite James's huge acclaim and popularity, The Lighthouse is not her greatest book. She never fails to create and interesting mystery peopled with interesting suspects, and hasn't here; she never fails to write intelligently and well, and hasn't here; she never fails to engage or provide enjoyment, and hasn't here. But this novel is less inspired than many of her greatest mysteries (A Certain Justice, Original Sin, Innocent Blood), and to an extent there's a feeling of her going through the motions of the form she has made her own: creating the batch of intriguing suspects, giving them each a hazy and interesting past, coming up with a mysterious and claustrophobic setting in which to house the mystery, and giving that too an interesting and hazy past (Combe island has been home to everything from pirates to German soldiers), and then boxing everything together with a nasty murder and an elusive mystery. It's possibly just me, but before she's always managed to provide something extra as well, on top of the mystery, (the philosophical aspects of theology in Death in Holy Orders, for example, or even just an incisive portrait of an enclosed society and the people in it) but here that doesn't really seem to be there. There's a mystery, a bit of history, and that's pretty much it.
Dalgliesh, too, is less engaging than in past outings (and he's never been my favourite detective anyway; he's a bit of a dull fish, really). He's a bit vague, a bit distracted by his [annoying] love-interest, Emma Lavenham, whom he proposed to in the previous book. He does far too much moping for my liking. True, it makes him a rounded and realistic character, but he's not really as interesting while doing it (though, as a positive, it's good to see this new, uncertain side of him).
The two great successes of the book are the portrait of Combe, which is atmospheric as always (even if it's not as grippingly sinister as usual), and the character of Nathan Oliver, who completely dominates the book even though the victim. He's not a pleasant person at all, but he's a completely fascinating one, and it's down to the force of his personality that the reader stays interested during the middle of the book when things get a bit dull. Worry not, though: there are one or two pivotal happenings at about page 200 that breathe new life into the story completely.
Overall, The Lighthouse is a success, but not a big one. It seems a little perfunctory at times, but there's certainly still enough here to make the thing worth buying. Longstanding fans will buy and enjoy as ever, but newcomers should look elsewhere. As ever, James provides a good mystery with a sensible solution, though. I thought I knew whodunnit, but they died on page 250.
on 2 January 2006
"The Lighthouse" Take place on an island where the well-to-do go to get away for some relaxation. When an island visitors is found dead, Dalglish and his team are called in. With a limited number of suspects, Dalgliesh begins his investigation. As the book progressed, Dalgliesh becomes gravely ill. Was Dame James going to kill off Dalgliesh because she's 85? The team continues their investigation and evenually solve the crime. Once again, Dame James has written an erudite,intelligent procedural. I also Recommened the Archeological thriller "Tourist in the Yucatan"
on 16 January 2007
Having read quite a number of P.D. James novels, this one definitely stands out as one her best Adam Dalgliesh books so far. Just about everything is well-timed: the plot is neither too simple nor wildly exagerrated, the number of characters not too large, the attention to detail just right without turning the book into a 1,000-page tome, and above all, the book is full of suspense and keeps the reader guessing until the end, without ever revealing too much too early.
It is just amazing how at the age of 85 Baroness James is still able to produce such stunning books! If you like crime fiction, this one is a must!
on 7 January 2006
This is the first book I have read by this author, but after reading this one I will not stop now. One of the most suspenseful novels I have read in awhile. I don't want to give anything away, but I would suggest reading this. David DeMello's Speak No Evil is also a top notch mystery/thriller. I loved them both!
on 1 May 2013
As the author of Banshee (A Dermot O'Hara Mystery), a novel set on the coast of Kerry in Southern Ireland, I have a fascination with that part of us that exists between solid land and restless ocean and how it influences our character and behaviour. I also love lighthouses and islands so PD James was always going to have a head-start in winning my affection with this work! Throw in Cornwall where I've spent a happy holiday or three and I'm completely won over. James' clever twist is to heighten the intensity of the plot by dropping her creation Dalgleish on an island where everyone knows each other or at least thinks they do. Are they a captive audience, trapped victims or a community of killers? This device also serves to raise the expectation that it must be easier to catch a murderer on an island and keeps the dramatic tension piling up the whole way through. My only, minor, quibble is, could one island have so much misfortune in such a short time? Her attention to detail in the background and behaviour of her characters make this an excellent read. And it's very brave to choose a famous writer as the victim! Highly recommended.
on 14 November 2005
I've always enjoyed reading P.D. James mystery novels, though I haven't found the time to read the last few. Thus, I came to The Lighthouse unfamiliar with the current status of some of the characters. I had some exposure to Kate Miskin, Adam Dalgliesh's assistant, but I had never heard of Francis Benton-Smith. One aspect of James' stories that I've always loved is her refusal to have a basic murder. There's always something interesting going on behind it, and she never kills a character the same way. No boring gunshots for her! So, I sat down, ready to enjoy some of James' character-building, as well as her wonderful prose and thoughtful mysteries. When I was done, I was struck by something: this was rather pedestrian.
Combe, a lonely island off of the Cornish coast of England, where senior VIPs from all over England's aristocracy come to convalesce, is the site of a horrible murder of the acclaimed writer, Nathan Oliver. The British government wants to use the island as a place for an important conference in a few months, so they call in Commander Adam Dalgliesh to solve the murder as quickly and efficiently as possible. He brings his assistant, Detective Inspector Kate Miskin, and his new Sergeant, Francis Benton-Smith, to help him. Motives abound for most of the guests and staff on the island, and it's up to Dalgliesh to find the truth before anybody else happens to fall victim. This is complicated by a disease outbreak, one that brings Miskin to the fore, and tests her resolve as well as her investigative talent.
It's not that I didn't enjoy The Lighthouse. In fact, I raced through it as I was wanted to know what happened. Even in James' worst books, her grasp of interesting character interaction makes her a joy to read. However, that's not quite enough to save this plot that is much less intricate than I'm used to from her, solved in an apparent revelation by Dalgliesh when he's lying ill. James spends almost a quarter of the book introducing us to the characters on the island, setting up the murder, and giving us all the different motives for the various characters. Being a big fan of Dalgliesh in action, this sequence started to really drag, saved only by James' mastery of her characters.
My understanding from the last two books (which I haven't read) is that James is really starting to get into the personal lives of her main characters, which explains the rather lengthy prologue introducing Dalgliesh, Miskin, and Benton-Smith, as well as giving us as some aspects of their latest love affairs as they get ready to go to Combe. While these events are briefly referenced by various thoughts from these characters while they're investigating, only Dalgliesh's romantic life actually has any bearing on the story, and no bearing on the mystery itself. I like hearing about the personal lives of the main characters (that's one thing I like about Elizabeth George), but getting this much information from James was something I wasn't used to. Given the nature of the mystery and the almost perfunctory way that it's solved, I feel like James shortchanged the mystery in order to get this personal information, which is a shame.
On the positive side, though, I have to repeat my love for James' prose and her character work. While I was getting a bit tired of hearing the various female characters having their bustline highlighted in their character description, that was my only fault with it. Dalgliesh is again a wonder to behold, always calm even while his romantic problems sometimes take his thoughts elsewhere, leaving his insides in turmoil. Kate Miskin really comes into her own in The Lighthouse, and I really enjoyed reading about her. She's saddled with a bit of unrequited love of Dalgliesh (something that I'm glad isn't really dwelt on much), but she also greatly respects him, and when she has to take over, she has momentary doubts. She's quickly able to put them aside, though, and it's interesting how she puts her own stamp on the investigation even as she's often wondering what Dalgliesh would do.
The characters on the island are also well done. If I didn't feel it had detracted from space devoted to Dalgliesh and the solving of the mystery, I would have enjoyed the opening quarter of the novel even more. Even as I was chomping at the bit for Dalgliesh to arrive, I found myself sinking into the story of these people on this island, the various relationships and how they all fit together. There are enough red herrings to feed a dolphin, but they're all wonderfully set up by this sequence that leads up to the murder. None of them really annoyed me, and there wasn't one character that I wished James hadn't created, or that I wished she would kill off so I wouldn't have to read about him/her.
One minor bit about the ending did annoy me slightly. Miskin is suddenly saddled with a small romantic entanglement that comes out of nowhere during the epilogue (not even the main story). It's quickly and easily dealt with, as even the character himself realizes that nothing can ever come of it. Is James serializing her novels now, and this will lead somewhere? I truly doubt it, which makes it even more annoying that it rears up out of nowhere. It was unnecessary, especially given her already complicated romantic life.
The Lighthouse is a good mystery, don't get me wrong. Fans of mysteries with interesting characters will love it. However, it's not the best P.D. James out there, and it pales in comparison to some of her better ones (Shroud for a Nightingale is by far her best). James fans will probably enjoy it, but be left a little wanting.
on 19 May 2006
On first reading this book I found the preface a bit tedious having already read "The Murder Room," James unlike many authors of the genre manages to highlight how close each character is to the murder, and Combe Island intensifies through the secluded setting. The imagery that she uses enables this book to be simultaneously a great and gripping novel as well as rather theraputic with the description of the sea and the idyllic surroundings. As usual we see Dalgleish and Kate, and has now developed a cogent intergration of these characters and how situations in the book reflect their lifes back home, the author again trying to emphasis the secludeness, this is the main device in this book and makes the reader feel weary and apprehensive about the next chain of events .
Conclusively, The Lighthouse is a fast paced novel, James never fails to provoke an adreneline rush. which is why I feel this book deserves five stars. Perfect holiday read however this is not light hearted and may evoke you to feel the cold of the cornish sea air.
on 23 January 2014
This is the first P.D. James novel that I have read, and as an occasional visitor to Lundy Island (on which Combe is clearly based) I was very much looking forward to it. However, the story never really held my interest and finishing it was quite hard work.
The first thing that started to grate on me was the tedious level of description of the various accommodations on Combe Island. Every time one of the police officers went into a room we were treated to a lengthy description of the view from the windows, where the tables and chairs were, where the drinks cabinet was, the type of pictures on the walls, the light fittings, and so on. It was just boring. We even got to hear about Adam Dalgleish's reaction to discovering the contents of his fridge, whereas of course most blokes would have been happy to discover a Cornish pasty and a bottle of beer (OK, I jest a little but you get the point).
The dialogue can best be described as functional, but there were some passages where I just thought to myself "people don't talk like that". The author also didn't succeed in making me relate to any of the characters, and there was no real sense of a "character arc" for any of the main figures, except perhaps Benton.
Finally, the revelation of whodunnit was rather unsatisfactory. There was never any sense that the police were getting closer to a solution; the answer just suddenly pops into someone's head and from thereon in it is just a matter of trying to chase down the killer.
I know P.D. James has a big reputation and maybe I'll give another one of her books a go, but this one just didn't work for me on any level.