The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik
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June 18, 2010

The Lighthouse

I love to read series mysteries, and I have this thing (not entirely compulsive) about reading them in order. I think that's because I'm as interested (even sometimes more interested) in the recurring characters' lives than I am in the mystery. I want to know what's going to happen next for Lynley and Havers, Duncan and Gemma, Richard Jury and his friends, and Adam and Emma.

I managed to overlook The Lighthouse, which came after The Murder Room and before The Private Patient. (I think that's because I bought The Lighthouse, and was saving it to read as a treat.) In this case, it doesn't really matter, although there was an element of one of the detectives' emotional lives in The Lighthouse that came as a surprise to me. I don't remember it from earlier books, but that doesn't mean it wasn't there.

I read somewhere that settings often inspire P.D. James in writing her books, and this one (driven in large part by its setting) takes place on Combe Island, off the coast of Cornwall.  The Holcombe family, the longtime owners of the island, have created a retreat for highpowered politicians and captains of industry who need a complete rest, away from their jobs and their security details.  Nathan Oliver, a famous novelist, was born on the island, and that entitles him to return to Combe whenever he wants, but not necessarily to live there permanently, as he wants to do.
When the first murder occurs, the closed circle of suspects include the resort's staff (most of whom have a sense of failure to overcome) and the visitors:  the novelist's daughter and his secretary/editor,  the chief of a laboratory threatened over animal cruelty and a German professor with a personal tie to the history of the island.  I always like the way P.D. James brings out small details about the characters that don't necessrily tie into the mystery:  the pathologist's beautiful voice, or a scene where Dalgliesh stands when Kate enters the room, even though he is ill and in pain.  And Dalgliesh is so compelling a character that you want to spend time with him, a man who needs murder to inspire his poetry, and proposes marriage in a letter because that's how such a message should be delivered.

I had the chance to read this book essentially in one sitting (on a long train ride, and back again) and although I had no doubt that I would enjoy this book as much as I did, I loved being able to sink into it, with no distractions, and immerse myself in the characters and the setting. I've now (I think) read all of P.D. James at least once, and I just hope there will be another.  If not, these are mysteries that bear re-reading.

1 comment:

Study Window said...

I love James, but have heard that she has said 'The Private Patient' will be her last. I do hope not, but she is well into her eighties.

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