Featuring the famous Commander Adam Dalgliesh, Devices and Desires is a thrilling and insightfully crafted novel of fallible people caught in a net of secrets, ambitions, and schemes on a lonely stretch of Norfolk coastline.
Commander Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard has just published a new book of poems and has taken a brief respite from publicity on the remote Larksoken headland on the Norfolk coast in a converted windmill left to him by his aunt. But he cannot so easily escape murder. A psychotic strangler of young women is at large in Norfolk, and getting nearer to Larksoken with every killing. And when Dalgliesh discovers the murdered body of the Acting Administrative Officer on the beach, he finds himself caught up in the passions and dangerous secrets of the headland community and in one of the most baffling murder cases of his career.
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May 11, 2004
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Excerpt from Devices and Desires by P.D. James
Friday 16 September to Tuesday 20 September
The Whistler's fourth victim was his youngest, Valerie Mitchell, aged fifteen years, eight months and four days, and she died because she missed the 9.40 bus from Easthaven to Cobb's Marsh. As always, she had left it until the last minute to leave the disco, and the floor was still a packed, gyrating mass of bodies under the makeshift strobe lights when she broke free of Wayne's clutching hands, shouted instructions to Shirl about their plans for next week above the raucous beat of the music and left the dance floor. Her last glimpse of Wayne was of his serious, bobbing face bizarrely striped with red, yellow and blue under the turning lights. Without waiting to change her shoes, she snatched up her jacket from the cloakroom peg and raced up the road past the darkened shops towards the bus station, her cumbersome shoulder-bag flapping against her ribs. But when she turned the corner into the station she saw with horror that the lights on their high poles shone down on a bleached and silent emptiness and, dashing to the corner, was in time to see the bus already half-way up the hill. There was still a chance if the lights were against it, and she began desperately chasing after it, hampered by her fragile, high-heeled shoes. But the lights were green and she watched helplessly, gasping and bent double with a sudden cramp, as it lumbered over the brow of a hill and like a brightly lit ship sank out of sight. "Oh no!" she screamed after it, "Oh God! Oh no!" and felt the tears of anger and dismay smarting her eyes.
This was the end. It was her father who laid down the rules in her family, and there was never any appeal, any second chance. After protracted discussion and her repeated pleas, she had been allowed this weekly visit on Friday evenings to the disco run by the church Youth Club, provided she caught the 9.40 bus without fail. It put her down at the Crown and Anchor at Cobb's Marsh, only fifty yards from her cottage. From 10.15 her father would begin watching for the bus to pass the front room where he and her mother would sit half-watching the television, the curtains drawn back. Whatever the programme or weather, he would then put on his coat and come out to walk the fifty yards to meet her, keeping her always in sight. Since the Norfolk Whistler had begun his killings, her father had had an added justification for the mild domestic tyranny which, she half-realized, he both thought right in dealing with his only child and rather enjoyed. The concordat had been early established: "You do right by me, my girl, and I'll do right by you." She both loved him and slightly feared him, and she dreaded his anger. Now there would be one of those awful rows in which she knew she couldn't hope to look to her mother for support. It would be the end of her Friday evenings with Wayne and Shirl and the gang. Already they teased and pitied her because she was treated as a child. Now it would be total humiliation.
Her first desperate thought was to hire a taxi and to chase the bus, but she didn't know where the cab rank was and she hadn't enough money; she was sure of that. She could go back to the disco and see if Wayne and Shirl and the gang between them could lend her enough. But Wayne was always skint and Shirl too mean, and by the time she had argued and cajoled it would be too late.
And then came salvation. The lights had changed again to red, and a car at the end of a tail of four others was just drawing slowly to a stop. She found herself opposite the open, left-hand window and looking directly at two elderly women. She clutched at the lowered glass and said breathlessly: "Can you give me a lift? Anywhere Cobb's Marsh direction. I've missed the bus. Please."
The final desperate plea left the driver unmoved. She stared ahead, frowned, then shook her head and let in the clutch. Her companion hesitated, looked at her, then leaned back and released the rear door.
"Get in. Quickly. We're going as far as Holt. We could drop you at the crossroads."
Valerie scrambled in and the car moved forward. At least they were going in the right direction, and it took her only a couple of seconds to think of her plan. From the crossroads outside Holt it would be less than half a mile to the junction with the bus route. She could walk it and pick it up at the stop before the Crown and Anchor. There would be plenty of time; the bus took at least twenty minutes meandering round the villages.
The woman who was driving spoke for the first time. She said: "You shouldn't be cadging lifts like this. Does your mother know that you're out, what you're doing? Parents seem to have no control over children these days.''
Silly old cow, she thought, what business is it of hers what I do? She wouldn't have stood the cheek from any of the teachers at school. But she bit back the impulse to rudeness, which was her adolescent response to adult criticism. She had to ride with the two old wrinklies. Better keep them sweet. She said: "I'm supposed to catch the nine-forty bus. My dad'ud kill me if he thought I'd cadged a lift. I wouldn't if you was a man."
"I hope not. And your father's perfectly right to be strict about it. These are dangerous times for young women, quite apart from the Whistler. Where exactly do you live?"
"At Cobb's Marsh. But I've got an aunt and uncle at Holt. If you put me down at the crossroads, he'll be able to give me a lift. They live right close. I'll be safe enough if you drop me there, honest."
The lie came easily to her and was as easily accepted. Nothing more was said by any of them. She sat looking at the backs of the two grey, cropped heads, watching the driver's age-speckled hands on the wheel. Sisters, she thought, by the look of them. Her first glimpse had shown her the same square heads, the same strong chins, the same curved eyebrows above anxious, angry eyes. They've had a row, she thought. She could sense the tension quivering between them. She was glad when, still without a word, the driver drew up at the crossroads and she was able to scramble out with muttered thanks and watch while they drove out of sight. They were the last human beings, but one, to see her alive.