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on 22 November 2004
Adam Dalgliesh is called in to investigate the murder of one of the trustees of the Dupayne Museum.
This is one of PD James' most enjoyable books, because the characterisation is so good. Time (and pages!) are taken to set the scene and introduce the characters. It is time well spent as the characters are easily distinguishable, believable and sympathetically written. The plot is that of a typical British who dunnit. It is easy to read, but what sets this book apart from the standard crime novel is the quality of the writing, which was superb. A book not to be missed by anyone enjoying good British crime fiction.
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Seldom has such wonderful writing been attached to such an unmysterious mystery. I found myself wishing that Ms. James had skipped the mystery and just written a novel about the characters. The result would undoubtedly have been much more satisfying.
Commander Adam Dalgliesh finds himself unexpectedly invited to visit an oddball museum, the Dupayne, which specializes in England between the two world wars. The founder has provided rare first editions of top novelists and representative paintings by the better artists of the time. Maintained as a private institution by the founder's children, the museum's most popular feature is the Murder Room, where the most infamous murders of the period are displayed. There's tension in the family though, as one of the children wants to have the museum closed.
Soon thereafter, Dalgliesh has to call off a date with delicious Emma Lavenham, whom he met in Death in Holy Orders, to begin investigating a suspicious death at the Dupayne. MI5 wants to protect one of its own from being discovered so sensitivity is needed. Everyone on the team is quickly struck the resemblance of the crime to one that is featured in the Murder Room. What's the connection? Is there a copy cat at work here?
The book's greatest strength is its powerful description of the Dupayne and those who serve it. You will feel like you have been to the museum and met the people there. The book has an extended beginning that gives you more than the usual detail about the most important characters. I felt like I had been invited to tea with them, and had a chance to settle into the story at a very leisurely pace. Of the major characters, both Ms. Tally Clutton, the housekeeper, and Dr. Neville Dupayne, son of the museum's founder, were quite memorable and convincing. Although the other major characters received a fair amount of attention, they did not come alive for me. Several minor characters received loving attention from Ms. James. I found myself wishing that their story lines had been more important.
The mystery is vastly too easy to solve. You can start from any one of six or seven different directions, and come to the right conclusion.
I found myself wondering why anyone would have written such an obvious mystery. A police procedural would have been a better structure for this story. The only reward for finishing the last five-eighths of the book is to find out a number of secrets and how Dalgliesh makes up for the broken date with Emma.
I certainly enjoyed the book, but it is the least favorite of mine within the Adam Dalgleish series of mysteries.
After finishing the book, I thought about whether anyone would have enjoyed Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None if the murderer had been apparent after the first death. I think not.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 August 2003
One morning, by chance, Commander Dalgleish has opportunity to visit the Dupayne, a small private museum on the edge of Hampstead Heath. It deals with the inter-war years, 1918-1939, and its most renowned exhibition is The Murder Room, a display of artefacts and information on the most notorious murder cases of the day. However, within a week Dalgleish will have cause to return to the Dupayne, but not for recreational purposes this time. This time, he will be investigating a brutal murder.
Dr Neville Dupayne, one of the three trustees of the museum, it being passed on to him and his brother and sister upon the death of their father, is found dead in a burning car near the museum, in a scenario exactly mirroring one of the cases featured in the bizarre Murder Room. And there is no lack of people with a motive, for the Dupayne is coming up for renewal of it's lease which, under the conditions of their late father's will, must be signed by all three trustees or become void, and Neville is the only one who refuses to sign. Yet there are several people whose futures have a strong stake in the future and continued running of the museum...
Then, mere days later, another body is found, once again killed in an identical manner to one of the cases from the Murder Room...
Perhaps not quite James's strongest novel, this is still a very good book, and will undoubtedly follow on the immense success of her last, Death in Holy Orders. As a novel, it is traditional in its form, but with James that means nothing, certainly not that you are in for anything like a "cosy" mystery. Content within the boundaries of the genre, she finds those limits not limiting at all, instead using them as foundations and support for an incredibly worthy novel that tells us much about the human condition and the society we, in England at least, live in. It is impeccably written (of course), socially interesting, with a strong sense of morality, and I doubt that there is a writer at work today who can more subtly but fully evoke a setting. Too, the eerie nostalgia of the museum itself is mirrored beautifully in both the story and the narrative prose itself.
Her characters are incredibly strong, they slink from the page fully-formed and ready for our judgement. They range from the sympathetic to the cold, from calculating to warm. Never are any of them less than human.
In the end, she presents a solution that is very satisfying not for that it is a bolt form the blue, but for that it is entirely sensible. She has you working out complicated solutions to the mystery, then presents you with an entirely plausible one that you never really even considerd, which is an admirable trait indeed in a world of fiction that is far too full of gratuitous unreality.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 18 November 2004
Perhaps not quite James's strongest novel, this is still a very good book, and will undoubtedly follow on the immense success of her last, Death in Holy Orders. As a novel, it is traditional in its form, but with James that means nothing, certainly not that you are in for anything like a "cosy" mystery. Content within the boundaries of the genre, she finds those limits not limiting at all, instead using them as foundations and support for an incredibly worthy novel that tells us much about the human condition and the society we, in England at least, live in. It is impeccably written (of course), socially interesting, with a strikingly strong sense of morality, and I doubt that there is a writer at work today who can more subtly but fully evoke a setting. Too, the eerie nostalgia of the museum itself is mirrored beautifully in both the story and the narrative prose itself.
Her characters are incredibly strong and she draws them with almost astonishing subtlety; they slink from the page fully-formed and ready for our judgement. They range from the sympathetic to the cold, from calculating to warm. Never are any of them less than human.
The Murder Room doesn't quite dazzle with brilliance like novels by Ruth Rendell, Peter Robinson, or even some of James' other books, but it is still an outstanding example of its genre, and it certainly proves that only British novelists can write perfectly about Britain. It leaves foreign imitators languishing by the wayside. It's an intelligent, very literate book which should please all her fans and lovers of such novels. In the end, she presents a solution that is very satisfying not for that it is a bolt from the blue, but for that it is entirely sensible. She has you working out complicated solutions to the mystery, then presents you with an entirely plausible one that you never really even considered, which is an admirable trait indeed in a world of fiction that is far too full of gratuitous unreality.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 November 2004
(amazon seems to have screwed up the original review I sent in of this..)
One morning, by chance, Commander Dalgliesh has opportunity to visit the Dupayne, a small private museum on the edge of Hampstead Heath. It deals with the inter-war years, 1918-1939, and its most renowned exhibition is The Murder Room, a display of artefacts and information on the most notorious murder cases of the day. However, within a week Dalgliesh will have cause to return to the Dupayne, but not for recreational purposes this time. This time, he will be investigating a brutal murder.
Dr Neville Dupayne, one of the three trustees of the museum, it being passed on to him and his brother and sister upon the death of their father, is found dead in a burning car near the museum, in a scenario exactly mirroring one of the cases featured in the bizarre Murder Room. And there is no lack of people with a motive, for the Dupayne is coming up for renewal of it's lease which, under the conditions of their late father's will, must be signed by all three trustees or will become void, and Neville is the only one who refuses to sign. Yet there are several people whose futures have a strong stake in the future and continued running of the museum...
Then, mere days later, another body is found, once again killed in an identical manner to one of the cases from the Murder Room...
Perhaps not quite James's strongest novel, this is still a very good book, and will undoubtedly follow on the immense success of her last, Death in Holy Orders. As a novel, it is traditional in its form, but with James that means nothing, certainly not that you are in for anything like a "cosy" mystery. Content within the boundaries of the genre, she finds those limits not limiting at all, instead using them as foundations and support for an incredibly worthy novel that tells us much about the human condition and the society we, in England at least, live in. It is impeccably written (of course), socially interesting, with a strikingly strong sense of morality, and I doubt that there is a writer at work today who can more subtly but fully evoke a setting. Too, the eerie nostalgia of the museum itself is mirrored beautifully in both the story and the narrative prose itself.
Her characters are incredibly strong and she draws them with almost astonishing subtlety; they slink from the page fully-formed and ready for our judgement. They range from the sympathetic to the cold, from calculating to warm. Never are any of them less than human.
The Murder Room doesn't quite dazzle with brilliance like novels by Ruth Rendell, Peter Robinson, or even some of James' other books, but it is still an outstanding example of its genre, and it certainly proves that only British novelists can write perfectly about Britain. It leaves foreign imitators languishing by the wayside. It's an intelligent, very literate book which should please all her fans and lovers of such novels. In the end, she presents a solution that is very satisfying not for that it is a bolt from the blue, but for that it is entirely sensible. She has you working out complicated solutions to the mystery, then presents you with an entirely plausible one that you never really even considered, which is an admirable trait indeed in a world of fiction that is far too full of gratuitous unreality.
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on 22 July 2003
As with all of PD James's works, _The Murder Room_ involves murder's intrusion upon a setting of near-pristine order. In this case, it is the private Dupayne Museum in Hampstead, in which the fate of the museum and that of its trustees, employees, and hangers-on, rides in the balance. As Commander Adam Dalgliesh and Detective Inspectors Kate Miskin and Piers Tarrant investigate, they confront the very embodiments of loyalty, betrayal, and selfishness.
I had fully expected that PD James's previous novel, _Death in Holy Orders_, was the conclusion to the Dalgliesh series, so I was thrilled to hear about _The Murder Room_ and have been anticipating it for some time. This seems to be quite a nostalgic work for Lady James, with more than a few echoes from her previous works and with far more insight into characters' (especially Dalgliesh's) innermost thoughts than we have previously seen. It's hard for me to recall when so many of the characters' thoughts in a PD James novel have been set aside in italics, and when she has shared so much of her thoughts (via her characters) on issues of class, racism, and sexuality. At the same time, this is also in my mind the most romantic novel she has written, with a moving homage to her favorite writer, Jane Austen.
On its own, _The Murder Room_ is a solid crime novel, with some macabre causes of death and fascinating glimpses into the history of crime (the "Murder Room" refers to a room in the Dupayne Museum devoted to memorabilia from famous crimes between the two World Wars; this echoes the room "Memento Mori" in _The Skull Beneath the Skin_). It is somewhat sparse on actual detection, but the prose is beautiful and the conclusion quite moving--profoundly so for this longtime admirer of PD James.
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VINE VOICEon 3 August 2004
Any P.D. James is preferable to no P.D. James and while some readers may have
found "The Murder Room" faint in some areas, Dame James' latest Adam
Dalgleish is, well, Adam Dalgleish. How can a reader go wrong?
Granted, James has given us a new twist (Adam is in love and her traditional
police procedural takes a different turn. But before one cries "soap opera," "The
Murder Room" is not about Adam Dalgliesh's personal life. It is about a series of
murder, a plot outline with which James is quite comfortable and her legions of fans
come to expect.
Circumstances surround the undertakings (forgive the pun) of the Dupayne
Museum,, a small, rather esoteric, museum devoted to the "interwar years," the
period in England from 1919 to 1939. However, the rub is that the lease on the
museum is about to expire and the three trustees (siblings) must agree totally on its
extension or else the museum cannot continue. One brother, Dr. Neville Dupayne, is
dead set (forgive the pun again) against signing; thus the demise of the museum is at
hand, it appears. Quickly into the book, the good doctor is found burned alive in
very suspicious circumstances and just about everyone has a motive for seeing him
dead. Commander Dalgleish and his team from New Scotland Yard are called in
and before this death can be solved, two others follow, all with connections to the
museum.
James clearly is in charge of this narrative and, as always, controls the pace
and the revelations of the investigation. Dalgleish is, as always, superb. The
resolution comes not through histrionics or melodrama, but the James/Dalgleish
penchant for brilliance.
Is this James' best? Hmmmm. "The best" is probably the individual
reader's personal choice, as I've yet to read a "bad" James, or even a "poor" one.
"The Murder Room" joins the other dozen or so Dalglieshes comfortably. It is an
excellent read. (Billyjhobbs@tyler.net)
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This is one of the series of novels featuring the Scotland Yard Detective Commander Adam Dalgliesh. He heads an elite squad that investigates murders where sensitive issues are involved. By chance he happens to visit a small private institute on Hampstead Heath, the Dupayne Museum, which specializes in the social history of the interwar years. Somewhat bizarrely it has a room, the Murder Room of the title, devoted to notorious murders of the period. The museum was founded by an earlier member of the Dupayne family and is now owned by his three children as trustees, and is run on a day-to-day basis by a small staff and a curator. There then follows a series of chapters where the appearance, characters, habits, and in some cases even the living arrangements, of each member of staff, as well as Dalgliesh and his team of three detectives, is described in considerable detail. Although some readers will see these descriptions, and many others of people and scenes that occur throughout the book, as one of its strengths, others may find the level of detail a bit too much. One consequence is that the real action is thereby delayed until more than a third of the way through the book.

This starts a week later when Dr Neville Dupayne, one of the three trustees, is found dead in a burning car in a garage in the grounds of the museum. The scenario is similar to one of the cases exhibited in the Murder Room. Dalgleish is called in because the curator is a former secret service agent who still does some work for MI5. It quickly transpires that just about everyone involved with the Museum has a motive for wishing Neville out of the way.

While the squad is carrying out its systematic interrogation of all the potential suspects and others, also described in considerable detail, a second murder is discovered. The body of a young woman is found in a trunk in the Murder Room itself, and the circumstances suggest that the killer is copying a second murder featured in the room. The plot is further complicated by the fact that the woman is connected to one of the trustees, Caroline Dupayne, because the latter is Assistant Principal at a school that was attended by the victim. By this time Dalgliesh has deduced the identity of the killer, but too late to stop an attempt to murder the housekeeper of the museum in the cottage where she lives. Readers' views on the plot and the resolution of the murders have varied all the way from `obvious' and `vastly too easy to solve', to a `bolt from the blue'. I think somewhere in between is fairer. The evidence against the perpetrator is strong, but so it is against others. I also defy anyone to have deduced Caroline's real relationship to the murdered woman.

Overall, while I appreciated the many descriptive passages, I did think they were a little too long. I also think that the minor sub-plot, that involves Dalgliesh's attempts at a romance with a Cambridge lecturer called Emma, really added nothing to the novel. Perhaps this is not one of PD James' best efforts, but it is still a good, well-written story.
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VINE VOICEon 31 December 2003
Any P.D. James is preferable to no P.D. James and while some readers may have found “The Murder Room” faint in some areas, Dame James’ latest Adam Dalgleish is, well, Adam Dalgleish. How can a reader go wrong?
Granted, James has given us a new twist (Adam is in love and her traditional police procedural takes a different turn. But before one cries “soap opera,” “The Murder Room” is not about Adam Dalgliesh’s personal life. It is about a series of murder, a plot outline with which James is quite comfortable and her legions of fans come to expect.
Circumstances surround the undertakings (forgive the pun) of the Dupayne Museum,, a small, rather esoteric, museum devoted to the “interwar years,” the period in England from 1919 to 1939. However, the rub is that the lease on the museum is about to expire and the three trustees (siblings) must agree totally on its extension or else the museum cannot continue. One brother, Dr. Neville Dupayne, is dead set (forgive the pun again) against signing; thus the demise of the museum is at hand, it appears.
Quickly into the book, the good doctor is found burned alive in very suspicious circumstances and just about everyone has a motive for seeing him dead. Commander Dalgleish and his team from New Scotland Yard are called in and before this death can be solved, two others follow, all with connections to the museum.
James clearly is in charge of this narrative and, as always, controls the pace and the revelations of the investigation. Dalgleish is, as always, superb. The resolution comes not through histrionics or melodrama, but the James/Dalgleish penchant for brilliance.
Is this James’ best? Hmmmm. “The best” is probably the individual reader’s personal choice, as I’ve yet to read a “bad” James, or even a “poor” one. “The Murder Room” joins the other dozen or so Dalglieshes comfortably. It is an excellent read.
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on 29 November 2005
As a confirmed P D James fan I enjoyed this book for its strongly-drawn characters, taut plot and the tension that James maintains in the early part of the book. The people and places come to life very vividly and the blending of historical fact with fiction is skilfully done. Having said that, I didn't think this was one of James' strongest novels. The denouement felt perfunctory and the themes and plot are similar to the ones in her earlier novel 'Original Sin' which I found a more exciting book overall. I also felt that the killer's motives when revealed at the end were somewhat weak and unconvincing.
Still, it's an enjoyable read and Adam Dagliesh and his colleagues remain engaging characters.
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