A Certain Justice - P D James

Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

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.

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It begins, dramatically enough, with a trial for murder. The distinguished criminal lawyer Venetia Aldridge is defending Garry Ashe on charges of having brutally killed his aunt. For Aldridge the trial is mainly a test of her courtroom skills, one more opportunity to succeed--and she does. But now murder is in the air. The next victim will be Aldridge herself, stabbed to death at her desk in her Chambers in the Middle Temple, a bloodstained wig on her head. Enter Commander Adam Dalgliesh and his team, whose struggle to investigate and understand the shocking events cannot halt the spiral into more horrors, more murders...

A Certain Justice is P.D. James at her strongest.  In her first foray into the strange closed world of the Law Courts and the London legal community, she has created a fascinating tale of interwoven passion and terror. As each character leaps into unforgettable life, as each scene draws us forward into new complexities of plot, she proves yet again that no other writer can match her skill in combining the excitement of the classic detective story with the richness of a fine novel. In its subtle portrayal of morality and human behavior, A Certain Justice will stand alongside Devices and Desires and A Taste for Death as one of P.D. James's most important, accomplished and entertaining works. 

Review A Certain Justice - P D James
Karen Chisholm
Thursday, October 4, 2007

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