I am a PD James fan from way back. So when I opened this book I expected to get a typical English countryside revealing it’s most threatening and mysterious side. I also expected a dysfunctional group of suspects figuratively cut off from the rest of the world and bound together by secrets, professional ties, misguided love and jealousy. I also expected a well constructed and complex plot. I was not disappointed on any level.
When investigative journalist Rhoda Gradwyn booked into Mr Chandler-Powell's private clinic in Dorset for the removal of a disfiguring and long-standing facial scar, she had no idea that she would never leave Cheverell Manor alive. Commander Adam Dalgliesh and his team are called in to investigate the murder, and all too soon a second death, and get to the truth. The team consists of Detective Inspector Kate Miskin and Detective Sergeant Francis Benton-Smith as well as Dalgliesh, who has been dragged from planning his wedding to the elegant Emma.
This is a proper old-fashioned English detective story where there is an assortment of suspects none of whom appear on the surface to have a motive. Truths are uncovered and the picture is slowly pieced together. The one thing that really bugged me, and maybe the answer is there and I missed it, but when Rhoda Gradwyn was asked why she wanted to get rid of her scar she answered "because I no longer have need for it". The reader doesn’t learn why she no longer had need, surely an important reason as the removal is why she went to meet her eventual death.
While I enjoyed the book tremendously, it is not one of her best works. Dalgliesh seemed a little tired as a character, his heart wasn’t in his investigation and he was almost working on remote control. Also, I got a strong feeling that this could be Adam Dalgliesh’s final appearance, something in the way all the t’s were crossed and the i’s dotted in the epilogue – finalising a lot of threads – strongly suggested to me that P.D. James has finished with at least some of her characters.
A CERTAIN JUSTICE - P D James
Venetia Aldridge QC, distinguished barrister, is found dead in her Middle Temple Chambers, stabbed once cleanly through the heart; sat in her chair; wearing a full wig covered in blood.
She had recently successfully defended Garry Ashe, accused of killing his aunt, and has been horrified by the announcement that Ashe and her troublesome daughter Octavia plan to marry. The current Head of Middle Temple Chambers is about to retire and Venetia believed she had a right to the position, despite just a few scant weeks of seniority. She was planning big disruptive changes in Chambers, and her best friend there was also her main rival for the job. Her lover, a prominent parliamentarian wanted to end their relationship. Dalgleish and his team firstly struggle to explain why the bizarre treatment of the body, and then to narrow the vast cast of possible suspects to get to the bottom of the death, until a second brutal killing suddenly reveals a lot of things that were carefully hidden away.
The book is broken into four distinct phases, "Book One - Counsel for the Defence", "Book Two - Death in Chambers", "Book Three - A Letter from the Dead" and finally "Book Four - The Reed Beds". This breaks the story up into those 4 distinct phases - the events leading up to the death of Venetia, the discovery of her body and the commencement of the investigation through to the resolution in two parts.
The characters in the story are artfully revealed, but in particular, the main character, the victim herself, is somebody that you come to know a lot about in the lead up to her death. There's a touch of the personal story of the investigators, less of Dalgleish and a little more about Kate Miskin and Piers Tarrant. The concentration, however, is mostly on how they work, and react to each other.
The location of the early parts of the book, in and around the Temple Chambers and the Old Bailey give a great sense of place - something vaguely archaic, cloistered and claustrophobic.
This is definitely a doorstopper of a book at 482 pages in the standard paperback, but there is no discernible padding in that. The only minor quibble is the same quibble that readers can sometimes get from James in that there's a vague feeling of class distinctions and people who are "quite right" and people who are "not quite right", based on where they come from. Kate Miskin, for example, came from Public Housing and she is constantly feeling that she has to compensate for that background.
A CERTAIN JUSTICE was involving from the start to the end, regardless of the size of the book. It is an old fashioned puzzle story, in the hands of an author who really knows how to crank out a good, deft, solid mystery. You really get the feeling you're in the hands of somebody who knows what they are doing.