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on 27 March 2001
This is one of the most entertaining books I have read in ages. Not being an avid reader of the genre I picked it up expecting to be mildly lulled into sleep but found myself losing sleep as I was unable to put it down at night! P D James skill is to keep the reader part of the investigating team of this suspicious series of deaths. The first death in the book is the last to be resolved and keeps the reader held until the very end. Those with a knowledge of Anglican theological colleges (especially of an Anglo Catholic bent)will I am sure recognise both priests and ordinands they have met there!
Buy it and enjoy it!
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Death in Holy Orders is a gem, and will delight long-time P.D. James fans as well as those for whom this is an introduction to her work. Well-known for her deep development of characters, this mystery is equally strong in giving you the locale (a small theological college perched on the sand cliffs near the North Sea in East Anglia), history (a twining of religion and family), social mores (actions have consequences), and a nicely detailed plot (four deaths, Church of England politics, and new connections for Adam Dalgliesh). Rarely is a book rich in all of these elements. Be warned. It's hard to put this book down! I finished reading at 1:22 a.m. despite needing to get up early this morning.
Mystery purists will complain that the book reveals the villain too early. Actually, there's a benefit, because it allows the book to take on the dramatic qualitites of a fine novel, as well as a mystery.
I delayed reading this book because the title didn't really grab me. I don't know much about the Church of England, and felt that I would soon be lost. Actually, although I probably didn't grasp all of the details, the religious context did not cause me to lose the thread either. Although set at a theological college, the story deals more broadly with issues throughout society.
The book opens with a fascinating literary device. A college staff member, Margaret Munroe, has found the body of a young student (ordinand) at the college buried under a pile of sand from a collapsed cliff. To ease her distress, she has been asked to write an account of the experience. Her exposition develops her character as well as the background of the book's story. This section serves like one of a pair of bookends to be matched at the end by a letter from the villain explaining the events described in the book. From these two examples, you can see the care with which Baroness James has developed her characters and story. You will feel that you know and understand quite a lot about over a dozen characters, and most of them you will find interesting and attractive to know more about. In most cases, some of the story will develop through their thoughts so that you can get inside of their reality.
The book has much more action than the typical P.D. James mystery, and thus makes it more modern in that sense. On the other hand, she pays close attention to the classic elements of mysery by making it clear that the events are tied to someone in residence. You will be reminded of And Then There Were None in many ways, although I found this novel much better done than that Dame Agatha Christie classic.
Adam Dalgliesh had visited the college, St. Anselm's, when he was young, and has a reunion with the former head of the college, Father Martin. That connection brings Adam Dalgliesh inside the story more than usual, which is all to the good. He is involved in an unlikely way. The dead ordinand, Ronald Treeves, was the adopted son of Sir Alred Treeves, a wealthy munitions industrialist. Sir Alred wants to know more about the circumstances, and asks Scotland Yard to send Dalgliesh, the Yard's most famous commander, to check it out. Dalgliesh has planned to take some personal time to visit the area and agrees. Through a series of unusual circumstances, the later investigations become his officially as well.
The plot is delightful in that Baroness James continually gives the reader hints before the investigation turns them up. Yet, the plot remains obscure enough that although we know about more crimes and complications than Scotland Yard does, we still don't know who did what until she chooses to raise the curtain for us. It's a nifty bit of slight of hand, while making the reader feel welcome.
Dalgliesh's connection to poetry is nicely placed into the story in a way that will delight long-term fans of this element of his character.
After you finish reading this story, you should think about how actions you have taken or could take in the future could have unintended, negative consequences. How can you avoid those potential consequences? How can you help others prepare for them? Those issues are at the core of the moral of this story, and are good food for thought for us all.
Take a bow, Baroness James. You deserve it!
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on 22 August 2005
This was the first P.D.James I read, and remains one of the best in my opinion, along with Devices & Desires. There is simply something about the way P.D.James writes takes you into another world. Unlike many books in this genre it is does not dwell on the crime itself, but on building a convincing, interesting and intriging story around the main plot. An excelent read.
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on 10 May 2001
With this her 17th book, P.D. James once again executes an admirable balancing act by combining, in her definition of a classic detective story, "a credible mystery with believable characters and a setting which both complements and integrates the action." The setting is East Anglia, one used by James in a number of her novels. It is here on the gloomy, windswept Suffolk coast, within yards of the North Sea, that we find St. Anselm's, a small theological college with only four resident priests and a student body which never exceeds twenty. St. Anselm's is described as High Church, probably Prayer Book Catholic, strong on theology, elitist, opposed to practically everything that's happened in Anglicanism in the past 50 years . . . and the food and wine are good. It is the action's locus, of which the reader is well aware long before Detective Inspector Kate Miskin observes, "So, it's going to be one of those self-contained cases with all the suspects under one roof . . ."
In "Death in Holy Orders," James gives us an apparent suicide (Ronald Treeves, ordinand), a certified natural death (Margaret Munroe, employee), and a brutal murder (Archdeacon Crampton, guest and trustee). Commander Adam Dalgliesh, who is brought to St. Anselm's at the request of Ronald Treeves's influential father, is convinced that the three deaths are connected. The Treeves and Munroe deaths occur before his arrival, but the murder of the unpopular Archdeacon takes place during Dalgliesh's stay at the college. Upon viewing the body, he becomes angered and vows to lift the burden of his past failure ("A Certain Justice") by making an arrest in the present murder. Soon after, yet another death (murder or accident?) broadens the challenge. Dalgliesh's presence throughout much of the book will be well-received by his admirers, and James further indulges his fans with what appears to be the promise of a new romance. And she carts out a cast of typically Jamesian characters: diverse, some pleasingly off-center, and all believable. The assemblage of deaths imbues the story with an aura of mystery from start to finish, which is intensified by the superb setting. All things considered, "Death in Holy Orders" is P.D. James at the top of her classic detective story game.
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VINE VOICEon 1 May 2007
The isolated theological college on the Norfolk coast is a classic Golden Age-style setting for a murder, but it's far from clear that it's murder we're dealing with. Ronald Treeves, one of the students, is found dead on the beach, his head buried under a cliff fall. The verdict is suicide. The subsequent death of Margaret Monroe, the college matron, appears to be an entirely natural case of heart failure. Sir Alred Treeves, Ronald's father, refuses to take his son's death at face value, and insists that Scotland Yard send in their best man. Enter Adam Dalgliesh.

Naturally, the scenario Dalgliesh discovers is not one of innocent sociability. A paedophile priest, an incestuous pigman, a psychotic policeman and an ordinand just too good looking for anyone's well-being seem to offer infinite possibilities for mischief, and that's before the archdeacon arrives to close the college and is found murdered in the chapel.

James unfolds this delicious plot with consummate skill, teasing her readers with half statements, hints and reported thought. Holding off the main murder until the middle of the book is a master-stroke, a gothic horror after the flat, sea-bleached mundanity of the first half. Though it seems that we are not yet to be spared Dalgliesh's singleton-ness, at least this is now balanced by Kate Miskin's career crisis, and there is more than enough detecting for the detectives here to distract them from their private lives. This will definitely please established fans of James' work, and seems likely to win her new acolytes too.
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VINE VOICEon 8 April 2001
Whether she's the reigning "Queen of Crime" or not (and she probably doesn't care!), P.D. James is unbeatable with the police procedural. And her latest, "Death in Holy Orders" is, once again, James par excellence. What scope, what depth, what sheer writing talent when it comes to a gripping, mesmerizing, no-holds-barred whodunit! James brushes aside her critics and continues writing in the way she knows best, unassuming and literate, psychological and breath-taking! And her main man, Adam Dalgleish is back, along with his trusted assistants, Kate Miskin and Piers Tarrant, as the superintendent enters ecclesiastical waters in this episode. A theological student has been found dead on the East Anglian shore, a tragedy ruled "accidental." However, pressed by the student's father, Dalgleish re-examines the ruling and James is off to the races in typical (read that "exciting") style. Known as the "dark poet of Scotland Yard," Dalgleish finds himself, once again, in familiar territory, as he recalls having visited the College of St. Anselm in his youth; however, momentary nostalgia aside, he finds more than he could possibly have anticipated. Of course, there is soon another death and Dalgleish's own "little gray cells" begin working overtime! Indeed, this may be the most horrifying case he's encountered, as James explores evil as she's never done before. Once again, James takes some time to present Dalgleish, the man, as well. Each of the books in his series provides more and more insight into this incredibly complex policeman. Dalgleish fans will welcome this, of course. "Death in Holy Orders" is yet another of those books that find themselves almost impossible to put down. James and Dalgleish--what a combination, what a read!
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on 7 November 2001
I haven't been a fan for a long time, but ever since I started reading P.D. James two years ago I find her the best...
She shows her excellence again in her latest novel starring my favourite detective, Commander Dalgliesh.
P.D. James really masters the art of writing about the characters behind the situation. I hope she continues to do so for a very long time......
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VINE VOICEon 31 December 2003
Whether she’s the reigning “Queen of Crime” or not (and she probably doesn’t care!),P.D. James is unbeatable with the police procedural. And her latest, “Death in Holy Orders” is, once again, James par excellence. What scope, what depth, what sheer writing talent when it comes to a gripping, mesmerizing, no-holds-barred whodunit! James brushes aside her critics and continues writing in the way she knows best, unassuming and
literate, psychological and breath-taking!
And her main man, Adam Dalgleish is back, along with his trusted assistants, Kate Miskin and Piers Tarrant, as the superintendent enters ecclesiastical waters in this episode. A theological student has been found dead on the East Anglian shore, a tragedy ruled “accidental.” However, pressed by the student’s father, Dalgleish re-examines the ruling and James is off to the races in typical (read that “exciting”) style.
Known as the “dark poet of Scotland Yard,” Dalgleish finds himself, once again, in familiar territory, as he recalls having visited the College of St. Anselm in his youth; however, momentary nostalgia aside, he finds more than he could possibly have anticipated. Of course, there is soon another death and Dalgleish’s own “little gray cells” begin working overtime! Indeed, this may be the more horrifying case he’s encountered, as James explores evil as she’s never done before.
Once again, James takes some time to present Dalgleish, the man, as well. Each of the books in his series provides more and more insight into this incredibly complex policeman. Dalgleish fans will welcome this, of course. “Death in Holy Orders” is yet another of those books that find themselves almost impossible to put down. James and Dalgleish--what a combination, what a read!
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Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
P.D James' impeccable sense for characters and sense of place are to the fore in this adaptation. The sound designer did a great job: I found the sound scapes of East Anglia and of the inner sanctums of the monastic school utterly believable. Not the usual "sea sounds disc 1, track 12 waves breaking" and "lots of eacho tio indicate a cloister" - all much more sensitive and original than that. Well done, someone uncredited!

Great performances, and well differentiated voices (a factor that can make or break radio drama where visual differentiation is obviously not possible) made this adaptation a pleasure to listen to.

If I have one criticism it is that it seemed to me to be a little too long. I thought it could have been trimmed down quite a lot without losing very much. Highly recommended though.

Alan T
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Death in Holy Orders is a gem, and will delight long-time P.D. James fans as well as those for whom this is an introduction to her work. Well-known for her deep development of characters, this mystery is equally strong in giving you the locale (a small theological college perched on the sand cliffs near the North Sea in East Anglia), history (a twining of religion and family), social mores (actions have consequences), and a nicely detailed plot (four deaths, Church of England politics, and new connections for Adam Dalgliesh). Rarely is a book rich in all of these elements. Be warned. It's hard to put this book down! I finished reading at 1:22 a.m. despite needing to get up early this morning.

Mystery purists will complain that the book reveals the villain too early. Actually, there's a benefit, because it allows the book to take on the dramatic qualitites of a fine novel, as well as a mystery.
I delayed reading this book because the title didn't really grab me. I don't know much about the Church of England, and felt that I would soon be lost. Actually, although I probably didn't grasp all of the details, the religious context did not cause me to lose the thread either. Although set at a theological college, the story deals more broadly with issues throughout society.
The book opens with a fascinating literary device. A college staff member, Margaret Munroe, has found the body of a young student (ordinand) at the college buried under a pile of sand from a collapsed cliff. To ease her distress, she has been asked to write an account of the experience. Her exposition develops her character as well as the background of the book's story. This section serves like one of a pair of bookends to be matched at the end by a letter from the villain explaining the events described in the book. From these two examples, you can see the care with which Baroness James has developed her characters and story. You will feel that you know and understand quite a lot about over a dozen characters, and most of them you will find interesting and attractive to know more about. In most cases, some of the story will develop through their thoughts so that you can get inside of their reality.
The book has much more action than the typical P.D. James mystery, and thus makes it more modern in that sense. On the other hand, she pays close attention to the classic elements of mysery by making it clear that the events are tied to someone in residence. You will be reminded of And Then There Were None in many ways, although I found this novel much better done than that Dame Agatha Christie classic.
Adam Dalgliesh had visited the college, St. Anselm's, when he was young, and has a reunion with the former head of the college, Father Martin. That connection brings Adam Dalgliesh inside the story more than usual, which is all to the good. He is involved in an unlikely way. The dead ordinand, Ronald Treeves, was the adopted son of Sir Alred Treeves, a wealthy munitions industrialist. Sir Alred wants to know more about the circumstances, and asks Scotland Yard to send Dalgliesh, the Yard's most famous commander, to check it out. Dalgliesh has planned to take some personal time to visit the area and agrees. Through a series of unusual circumstances, the later investigations become his officially as well.
The plot is delightful in that Baroness James continually gives the reader hints before the investigation turns them up. Yet, the plot remains obscure enough that although we know about more crimes and complications than Scotland Yard does, we still don't know who did what until she chooses to raise the curtain for us. It's a nifty bit of slight of hand, while making the reader feel welcome.
Dalgliesh's connection to poetry is nicely placed into the story in a way that will delight long-term fans of this element of his character.
After you finish reading this story, you should think about how actions you have taken or could take in the future could have unintended, negative consequences. How can you avoid those potential consequences? How can you help others prepare for them? Those issues are at the core of the moral of this story, and are good food for thought for us all.
Take a bow, Baroness James. You deserve it!
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