From Publishers Weekly
Neither the mystery nor the detective present James's followers with anything truly new in her latest Adam Dalgliesh novel (after 2001's Death in Holy Orders), which opens, like other recent books in the series, with an extended portrayal of an aging institution whose survival is threatened by one person, who rapidly becomes the focus of resentment and hostility. Neville Dupayne, a trustee of the Dupayne Museum, a small, private institution devoted to England between the world wars, plans to veto its continuing operation. After many pages of background on the museum's employees, volunteers and others who would be affected by the trustee's unpopular decision, Neville meets his end in a manner paralleling a notorious historical murder exhibited in the museum's "Murder Room." MI5's interest in one of the people connected with the crime leads to Commander Dalgleish and his team taking on the case. While a romance develops between the commander, who's even more understated than usual, and Emma Lavenham, introduced in Death in Holy Orders, this subplot has minimal impact. A second murder raises the ante, but the whodunit aspect falls short of James's best work. Hopefully, this is an isolated lapse for an author who excels at characterization and basic human psychology.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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After 16 novels, James is still able to find insular communities of professionals in which to set her crimes. This time it's the staff of a quirky museum devoted to England between the wars. The piece de resistance of the museum's collection is the Murder Room, in which are gathered artifacts from famous homicides that took place during the interwar years. Naturally, the room plays a crucial role, both as setting and as backstory, when real-life murder comes to the museum. It starts not in the Murder Room but in a garage, where one member of the family-owned museum is incinerated after being doused with petrol. That the victim was lobbying to sell the museum, over the objections of his sister and brother, only adds fuel to a fire that Scotland Yard Commander Adam Dalgleish is asked to extinguish. As always, James delves deeply into the psyches of her characters--in this case, the museum's staff--uncovering not just motives and secrets, the stuff of any crime plot, but also the flesh and bone of personality. Her novels follow a formula in terms of the action and the setting, but her people rise above that pattern, their complexity giving muscle and sinew to the bare skeleton of the classical detective story. And none so much as Dalgleish himself, who now must contend with tremors of "precarious joy" as his feelings for Emma, a Cambridge professor he met in Holy Orders
(2001), force a life-changing decision. James, at 83, has mastered the trick of repeating herself in ever-fascinating new ways. Bill OttCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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