A subtle and powerful work of contemporary fiction. Combe Island off the Cornish coast has a bloodstained history of piracy and cruelty but now, privately owned, it offers respite to over-stressed men and women in positions of high authority who require privacy and guaranteed security. But the peace of Combe is violated when one of the distinguished visitors is bizarrely murdered. Commander Adam Dalgliesh is called in to solve the mystery quickly and discreetly, but at a difficult time for him and his depleted team. Dalgliesh is uncertain about his future with Emma Lavenham, the woman he loves; Detective Inspector Kate Miskin has her own emotional problems; and the ambitious Sergeant Francis Benton-Smith is worried about working under Kate. Hardly has the team begun to unravel the complicated motives of the suspects than there is a second brutal killing, and the whole investigation is jeopardized when Dalgliesh is faced with a danger more insidious and as potentially fatal as murder. This eagerly awaited successor to the international bestseller The Murder Room displays all the qualities that lovers of P. D. James�s novels the world over have come to expect: sensitive characterization, an exciting and superbly structured plot and vivid evocation of place.
British master James's 13th Adam Dalgliesh mystery, like its two predecessors, The Murder Room (2003) and Death in Holy Orders (2001), focuses at first on a hostile character who threatens to shatter a longstanding way of life. Acclaimed novelist Nathan Oliver incurs the wrath of his fellow residents on Combe Island, a private property off the Cornish coast used as an exclusive retreat by movers and shakers in many fields. When Oliver is murdered, Scotland Yard dispatches Dalgliesh and two of his team to Combe, where the commander checks alibis and motives in his trademark understated manner. Because the detective's new romantic attachment is more of a backstory than in The Murder Room, it intrudes less on the murder inquiry. The solution, which hinges on the existence of an unknown child, is less than fully satisfactory and also borrows elements from some of James's recent plots. Devotees more interested in her hero's personal growth than his deductive technique will find much to enjoy.
Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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March 30, 2003
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Excerpt from The Lighthouse by P.D. James
Commander Adam Dalgliesh was not unused to being urgently summoned to non-scheduled meetings with unspecified people at inconvenient times, but usually with one purpose in common: he could be confident that somewhere there lay a dead body awaiting his attention. There were other urgent calls, other meetings, sometimes at the highest level. Dalgliesh, as a permanent ADC to the Commissioner, had a number of functions which, as they grew in number and importance, had become so ill-defined that most of his colleagues had given up trying to define them. But this meeting, called in Assistant Commissioner Harkness's office on the seventh floor of New Scotland Yard at ten-fifty-five on the morning of Saturday, 23 October, had, from his first entry into the room, the unmistakable presaging of murder. This had nothing to do with a certain serious tension on the faces turned towards him; a departmental debacle would have caused greater concern. It was rather that unnatural death always provoked a peculiar unease, an uncomfortable realisation that there were still some things that might not be susceptible to bureaucratic control.
There were only three men awaiting him and Dalgliesh was surprised to see Alexander Conistone of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He liked Conistone, who was one of the few eccentrics remaining in an increasingly conformist and politicised service. Conistone had acquired a reputation for crisis management. This was partly founded on his belief that there was no emergency that was not amenable to precedent or departmental regulations, but when these orthodoxies failed, he could reveal a dangerous capacity for imaginative initiatives which, by any bureaucratic logic, deserved to end in disaster but never did. Dalgliesh, for whom few of the labyrinths of Westminster bureaucracy were wholly unfamiliar, had earlier decided that this dichotomy of character was inherited. Generations of Conistones had been soldiers. The foreign fields of Britain's imperialistic past were enriched by the bodies of unmemorialised victims of previous Conistones' crises management. Even Conistone's eccentric appearance reflected a personal ambiguity. Alone among his colleagues, he dressed with the careful pinstriped conformity of a civil servant of the Thirties while, with his strong bony face, mottled cheeks and hair with the resilient waywardness of straw, he looked like a farmer.
He was seated next to Dalgliesh opposite one of the wide windows. Having sat through the first ten minutes of the present meeting with an unusual economy of words, he sat, his chair a little tilted, complacently surveying the panorama of towers and spires, lit by a transitory unseasonable morning sun. Of the four men in the room Conistone, Adam Dalgliesh, Assistant Commissioner Harkness and a fresh-faced boy from MI5 who had been introduced as Colin Reeves Conistone, the one most concerned with the matter in hand, had so far said the least while Reeves, preoccupied with the effort of remembering what was being said without the humiliating expedient of being seen to take notes, hadn't yet spoken. Now Conistone stirred himself for a summing up.