In this issue:
P.D. James' The Lighthouse: A masterful plotter, a creator of believable and fascinating characters that makes reading her an unmitigated joy; Linda Fairstein's Death Dance: Fairstein’s workmanlike writing serves her chosen genre well, but don’t look for great literature in this series; Patricia Cornwell's Predator crawls without any instances of positive interaction between characters
Winter, that cold and dark time, seems a perfect excuse for a bit of self-indulgence. The bleak, chill days give license to pamper oneself with all sorts of comforts. At my house, the stuff of bliss involves things like a drop of brandy in an evening mug of coffee, a cozy supper by the fire, a ratty but well-loved bathrobe, and most importantly, a good but not-too-challenging book.
Where I live, however, Winter has not cooperated this year, staying stubbornly away during a spell of record-breaking warmth throughout January. It has been hard to find reasons to indulge my sybaritic urges. There has been no snow to keep us off the roads, no rain to make more leaf-raking impossible, not even a good, low freeze to necessitate wearing anything warmer than a light sweater. In other words, we’ve had no excuse to hibernate and ignore the chores of daily life, never mind to enjoy the delights of self-indulgence.
February, however, shows promise: the winds have risen, the mercury has dropped; there was a dusting of snow on the bushes this morning; and our weather mavens promise us that the Real Stuff is just around the corner. So I have stocked up on paperbacks, mostly mysteries, which somehow seem just the right base for a long Winter read. They move quickly. They offer escape. They’re pure fun. I’ve gone back to re-read some of my old favorites, and have also picked up on some new offerings.
Herewith, a trio of relatively new books you might consider during what I’ve come to think of as Mystery Month. May the winds howl at your door.
By P.D. James, © 2005
Alfred G. Knopf, 335 pp
If ever there were an author designed to delight the readers of Senior Women Web, it is P.D. James (aka Baroness James of Holland Park). At the age of 85, she has published her nineteenth book, yet another mystery featuring her intriguing hero, the detective/poet Commander Adam Dalgliesh.
It’s hard to imagine that there might be a fan of the genre who hasn’t read P.D. James, but on the unlikely chance that such a person exists, I’ll say it right off the top: Get with it! This woman is the Real Deal: a masterful plotter, a creator of believable and fascinating characters, and – that rarity of rarities in the world of detective fiction – a writer who uses the English language with an easy elegance that makes reading her an unmitigated joy.
The Lighthouse is a classic story of murder in an isolated spot, in this case, the Island of Combe off the Cornish coast of England (an entirely fictional spot, James promises, but one that she then proceeds to bring into vivid existence). For hundreds of years, the island was owned by the Holcombe family, but it now operates under a trust set up to provide periods of retreat and security for high-profile individuals who need to escape for brief periods from the stress of their lives. When one of the well-known visitors is murdered, Scotland Yard sends Dalgliesh and his two aides to sort things out.
It helps to have read James’s earlier books, so that one can understand the tensions and dynamics the trio brings with them. Dalgliesh, having just proposed to his beloved Emma, must pack up and go and hope that she will understand his sudden absence. His second-in-command, Detective Inspector Kate Miskin, must deal with the disappointment of her hidden love for Dalgliesh, never mind the start of her affair with her former cohort, Piers Tarrant, and her uncertainties about her new assistant, the young and ambitious Francis Benton-Smith. Benton-Smith, in turn, is trying to make his own mark on the team, hoping for a promotion.
It would be wicked to relay any of the plot itself. Let the reader enjoy the read as the story spins out. Suffice it to say that murder and mayhem figure prominently, as they should, complicated by a crisis of health that throws Dalgliesh’s investigation into the hands of his assistants.
At 85, P.D. James may well have written her last book. Looking at the photo on the back of the book jacket, however, gives hope. Her dark, intelligent, piercing eyes all but promise that the lady has a few more adventures up her well-tailored sleeve. Long may she wave.
Julia Sneden is a writer, reviewer, teacher, wife, mother, grandmother and care-giver. She lives in North Carolina. jbsneden can be reached by email (at) triad.rr.com