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.