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by P. D. James
Fawcett, March 2002
448 pages
ISBN: 0345446666

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

St. Anselmıs was an elitist, small, high church college for training Anglican priests. It was located in East Anglia on a windswept, desolate headland with no village, pub, or shop around. It could be expected, in such an isolated and insular environment, that difficulties and even murder might find a home:

The college might stand in defiant symbolic isolation between the sea and the acres of unpolluted headland, but the life within its walls was intense, tightly controlled, claustrophobic.

This saga begins with the death of a student, Ronald Treeves, and the request of his wealthy father that Scotland Yard determine whether the investigation, which ended in a coronerıs verdict of accidental death, had been sufficient. Adam Dalgleish had been heading to that area for a short vacation, so it was agreed he would undertake the analysis of the death. Dalgleish, in fact, had a strong connection with the college, for he had spent three summers there during his youth and learned to revere elderly Father Martin.

While Dalgleish was present in college, during the night, someone brutally murdered Archdeacon Matthew Crampton who was also a visitor that weekend. The murder took place in the church thus creating a particular unpleasant profanity. Since he was present, Dalgleish was tapped to investigate and the rest of his crew joined him trying to delve beneath the surface and discover the face of evil.

The characters, as always in Baroness Jamesıs books, are carefully, authentically crafted. They are complex human beings whom we get to know, as in real life, layer by layer as they reveal themselves to us by their actions, their conversations, their emotions. They are people who exist, who could be met anytime walking down a street or sitting across from us in a train station. Never is there any problem keeping characters separate or failing to understand their motives.

Additionally the setting is meticulously described and so well done that the reader feels present in all the actions. This barren deserted headline with the great house and cottages and church gradually more and more exposed to the sea and the wind are believable and convincing places. The descriptions are picturesque, distinct, painstaking and give us word pictures that our minds can easily translate. Just at passing here is a sample:

. . . the howling of the wind was scarcely heard above the thunder of the sea. Wave upon wave crashed in explosions of spray, boiling around the groynes and setting balls of spume dancing and rolling like iridescent soap bubbles on the high ridges of the shingles.

Gradually, imperceptibly we realize we know who the murderer is and the story then becomes a search for evidence to prove his guilt. This pursuit is just as fascinating as the quest for the killer.

This book, as always, proceeds at a leisurely pace and every scene and person is described in full with deliberate care. Those who require nonstop action and suspense will not especially enjoy this book. Those who want to enjoy all the aspects and facets of the story will love it.

Reviewed by Sally A. Fellows, February 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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