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Death in Holy Orders [Abridged] [Audio Cassette]

P. D. James , Charles Keating
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 2001
On the bleak coast of East Anglia, atop a sweep of low cliffs, stands the small theological college of St. Anselm's. On the shore not far away, smothered beneath a fall of sand, lies the body of one of the school's young ordinands. He is the son of Sir Alred Treves, a hugely successful businessman who is accustomed to getting what he wants - and in this case what he wants is for Commander Adam Dalgliesh to investigate his son's death. Although there seems little to be investigated, Dalgliesh agrees. No sooner does he arrive, however, than the college is torn apart by a sacrilegious and horrifying murder, and Dalgliesh finds himself drawn into the labyrinth of an intricate and violent mystery.

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From Amazon

Despite challenges from Ruth Rendell and (more recently) Minette Walters, P.D. James's position as Britain's Queen of Crime remains largely unassailable. Although a certain reaction has set in to her reputation (and there are those who claim her poetry-loving copper Adam Dalgliesh doesn't correspond to any of his counterparts in the real world), her detractors can scarcely deny her astonishing literary gifts. More than any other writer, she has elevated the detective story into the realms of literature, with the psychology of the characters treated in the most complex and authoritative fashion. Her plots, too, are full of intriguing detail and studed with brilliantly observed character studies. Who cares if Dalgliesh belongs more in the pages of a book than poking around a graffiti-scrawled council estate? As a policeman, he is considerably more plausible than Doyle's Holmes, and that's never stopped us loving the Baker Street sleuth. Death in Holy Orders represents something of a challenge from James to her critics, taking on all the contentious elements and rigorously reinvigorating them. She had admitted that she was finding it increasingly difficult to find new plots for Dalgliesh, and the locale here (a theological college on a lonely stretch of the East Anglian coast) turns out to be an inspired choice. We're presented with the enclosed setting so beloved of golden age detective writers, and James is able to incorporate her theological interests seamlessly into the plot (but never in any doctrinaire way; the nonbeliever is never uncomfortable). The body of a student at the college is found on the shore, suffocated by a fall of sand. Dalgliesh is called upon to reexamine the verdict of accidental death (which the student's father would not accept). Having visited the College of St. Anselm in his boyhood, he finds the investigation has a strong nostalgic aspect for him. But that is soon overtaken by the realization that he has encountered the most horrific case of his career, and another visitor to the college dies a horrible death. As an exploration of evil--and as a piece of highly distinctive crime writing--this is James at her nonpareil best. Dalgliesh, too, is rendered with new dimensions of psychological complexity. --Barry Forshaw, Amazon.co.uk --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Baroness James may have turned 80, but neither she nor her dogged Scotland Yard detective Commander Adam Dalgliesh (last seen in 1997's A Certain Justice) shows any sign of flagging in this superb whodunit, with its extraordinarily complex and nuanced plot and large cast of credible characters. When the body of a young ordinand, Ronald Treeves, turns up buried in a sandy bank on the Suffolk coast near isolated St. Anselm's, a High Anglican theological college, it's unclear whether his death was an accident, suicide or murder. The mystery deepens a few days later when someone suffocates Margaret Munroe, a retired nurse with a bad heart, because she remembers an event 12 years earlier that could have some bearing on whatever's amiss at St. Anselm's. Enter Dalgliesh at the behest of Ronald's father, Sir Alred, who's received an anonymous note suggesting foul play in his son's death. It isn't long before another death occurs, and this time it's clearly murder: late one night in the chapel, somebody bashes in the head of Archdeacon Crampton, a hard-nosed outsider who wanted to close St. Anselm's. Dalgliesh and his investigative team examine the complicated motives of a host of suspects resident at the college, mostly ordinands and priests, slowly unveiling the connections among the various deaths. Illegitimacy, incest, a secret marriage, a missing cloak and a valuable altar triptych are just some of the ingredients in a case as contrived as any Golden Age classic but presented with such masterful ease and conviction that even the most skeptical readers will suspend disbelief. This is a natural for PBS Mystery adaptation. (Apr. 19)Forecast: With a 300,000-copy first printing, this BOMC main selection is sure to race up the bestseller lists.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gem May 12 2002
Format:Mass Market Paperback
When Commander Adam Dalgliesh agreed to re-examine the death of an Anglican theological colleage student, he believed it would be a simple and straightforward task. His arrival to St Anselm was complicated by a number of visitors who were also there for the weekend. Each of the visitors had his own agenda and when murder was committed barely fifty yards away from where Dalgliesh was staying, he was determined that the murderer should not get away. It would however, require all Dalgliesh¡s intelligence to not only uncover the murderer, but also to obtain sufficient evidence to convict him.
As usual, P D James¡ novel is a pleasure to read. Very rarely do detective stories provide the thrill to keep the reader¡s heart pumping, the mystery to keep his curiosity alive till the last page, but also wonderful insights into each characters. In simple words, her novels are never shallow. Enjoyment from her novel is never derived from skimping through the pages, but from drinking in each sentence slowly. And it never hurts that Adam Dalgliesh has remained such a charismatic character all along.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining read May 10 2002
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Detective fiction is not a genre that I read very much. However, the publicity that this book received and the fact that I have been to theological college myself made me decide to give it a shot. James has obviously researched her material well. Questions of theology are handled relatively astutely. While she writes in a note at the beginning that the characters are not based on anyone, she obviously has a good knowledge of human character and applies this in an interesting way to those in her book. Having said that, it is a bit sad that she feels the need to say that she doesn't want to discourage candidates for ministry training or visitors to theological colleges. If such people really cannot tell the difference between real life and detective fiction then something seems wrong with our world.
It was only relatively late in the story that I figured out who the murderer would be, which is a sign that the writer has not made things so obvious that the book is not worth reading (although it could just have been my unfamiliarity with this genre). At the same time, once the murderer was revealed there were clues that one could look back on, so it didn't feel that James has just picked an unlikely candidate in order to keep it a mystery. This was a fun read but not, ultimately, one that would make me want to read many similar books. For it's explorations of character and the exploration of an unusual setting I would recommend it as something worth reading.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Murder & the Church of England May 7 2002
By Mark
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I picked up this paperback based largely on the title -- and PD James's excellent reputation as a writer of literate crime novels. But my main interest was in the setting: a "high church" seminary on the coast of England. I'm interested in matters of religion and particularly the tension between high and low church teachings and practices in the Church of England and the Episcopal Church of the USA.
I found the mystery itself quite compelling. The plot proved complex enough without resorting to sometimes laughable complexities for novelty's sake. This was my first Dalgliesh novel, but I found the character decently enough described so as to be able to enjoy reading about him.
The ecclesiastical aspects of the story proved very interesting. James uses the high church-low church matrix to place her characters and their religious politics in finly drawn relation to each other, Church history, and contemporary events.
And though I don't expect to find many others like me in this regard; I enjoyed reading about religion and religious people in a non-religious context. Ecclesiology can be fun (really!) but ecclesiastical murder is more fun!
Since reading "A Death in Holy Orders" I am now reading my way -- backwards -- through the entire Adam Dalgleish series. And I'm enjoying it immensely.
And James has got me back on to Trollope. In a passage in "Holy Orders" a chapter of "Barchester Towers" is read aloud -- to great effect. As I read my way backwards through Dalgleish, I'm reading my way (forwards) through Trollope's excellent "Chronicle of Barsetshire" novels, beginning with "The Warden." Thanks Baroness James for returning me to those excellent, less gorey, but much funnier Victorian novels about life in and around the Church of England.
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5.0 out of 5 stars another excellent book April 28 2002
Format:Hardcover
although sometimes her books can ramble on a bit, and the writing be a bit too wordy, this one has found the perfect balance.
The writing is somewhat less...intellectual, that some of her other books, and this, if anything, makes the book even better. The plot is a cracker, and she writes it in such a way that it is strikingly realistic (as are all her books). The characters are likeable, and well developed, and there are twists aplenty to be had.
Its great to learn a little more about AD's past, and even see a glimmer of romance on the horizon for him.
Overall, this is an incredibly good detective novel. The plot is great, the solution satisfactory. The writing is absolutely first class. a wonderful cast of characters, and an excellent setting packed with atmosphere. Very well done. It still does not quite top "Original Sin" as my favourite P.D. James book, but it is about on a par with "A Certain Justice" as my second.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written but not her best
"Death In Holy Orders" bears all of P D James' trademarks. It is well written. Its subject is meticulously researched so that every detail of the religious life she writes about... Read more
Published on April 21 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars P.D. James is Master Novelist!
As if we needed any further proof of this. Her detective novels are arguably the best on the shelves. She not only writes a good mystery, but her character depiction is flawless. Read more
Published on April 20 2002 by S. Schwartz
4.0 out of 5 stars Another deep, melancholy novel from P.D. James
P.D. James has a great skill at writing mysteries in a very compelling way. Modern American writers in this genre tend to be very bland, but James' sense of tradition and... Read more
Published on April 17 2002 by David P Henreckson
3.0 out of 5 stars More Ho-Hum Than Holy
I've read all of Dame James's Dalgliesh books and must say that I've found this the least interesting. The writing, as always, is wonderful, but the actual mystery is not. Read more
Published on Feb. 19 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars Message To AD: Keep Taking Me Away!
While Death In Holy Orders may lack the acidity and richness of A Certain Justice, it compensates immeasurably with the quality of transporting the reader to a fine far-flung... Read more
Published on Feb. 16 2002 by Liz
3.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written but basically boring
and much too long. I am a long time fan of James, having read everything she's written, but I did not find this book to be very satisfying. Read more
Published on Jan. 9 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars Adam Dalgleish has feelings too!
Very typical Dalgleish stuff, but for the first time its wonderful to learn about the man himself - his past, his present; thats he's really a human being in the real world. Read more
Published on Dec 12 2001 by Emma Hughes
1.0 out of 5 stars Deja vu?
Have we not been here before? Monks/priests on an isolated coastline, the usual suspects arrayed before us, a death in an isolated cottage. Read more
Published on Dec 7 2001
3.0 out of 5 stars Dalgliesh May Finally be Puttering Out
Unfortunately, I find myself bored with this book; and I was so excited when I say a new P.D. James mystery! Read more
Published on Dec 5 2001 by L. Friedman
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