on September 16, 2006
P.D.James' "Death of an expert witness" is an interesting mystery. The victim is Dr. Lorrimer, a well-qualified and authoritative forensic scientist. On a personal basis he is unpleasant. He is smarting from being passed over for promotion, "petty in his dealings with underlings, vindictive in his personal relationships". Adam Dagleish is brought up from London to solve the case but finds himself confronted by a multitude of suspects. Virtually everyone has a motive to get rid of Lorrimer and there are many suspect alibis.
The novel is replete with red herrings leading us to suspect first one character and then another of being the killer.
P.D. James has a first-rate reputation as a mystery writer.But Inspector Dagleish is not really my cup of tea.
The murder of Dr. Edwin Lorrimer at Hoggatt's forensics laboratory offers a particularly difficult challenge for Commander Adam Dalgleish. After all, the killer could be one of Lorrimer's colleagues, and that person would know how to destroy evidence and mislead investigators.
Death of an Expert Witness contains all of P.D. James's usual trademarks, including haughty professionals who barely have time for Dalgleish's questions and an isolated institution filled with secrets. For those who've followed my reviews of James's work this year, you'll know her novels have been hit or miss with me, partly for their sameness and lack of interesting subplots or character development. This book, however, was one of the better ones because James did a good job of delving into characters's personal lives and foibles.
There still wasn't much in the way of subplots, and I don't think Dalgleish changed at all. As usual, the story kept me guessing about the killer's identity, but it all made perfect sense in the end. This book shows why James has gained so many fans. It's an intelligent, complex puzzler exploring desperate aspects of need and loneliness.
on December 28, 2001
Two disclaimers for this review: 1, this was my first P.D. James novel. 2, I believe that Agatha Christie was the goddess of all mystery writing.
I am used to a body within the first few pages, and letting Hercule Poirot deduce things from there until the solution is provided. However, there are no bodies until 80 pages into the book, and most of the discussion includes things that Dalgliesh brings out later with witnesses anyway, making them redundant.
Also confusing was James's apparent escape from reality with character names. Some are completely absurd, like the characters names "Makepeace" and "Gotobed." Combining words into names detracts from the proposed seriousness of the situation.
This book is much heavier than a true murder mystery, and the decision comes down to this: whether you want a true murder mystery, where you follow facts and psychology in the attempt to deduce the murderer, or whether you want a deeper novel -- a P.D. James novel -- where, along with the murder, time is spent reflecting on life and the world in a more philosophical fashion.