CBR III Week 13: The Murder Room by PD James

Murder room

This was one of the books I read the last time I was down in Florida. Memories! I have to admit that I kinda miss the beach. One thing I don’t miss is the 11 hour drive with my best friend Molly. You know when you’re in the car with someone/somepet for too long and you start thinking things like “wow, you breathe SO much” or “screw you for sleeping right now” or “I want to murder you”?

Which is what The Murder Room is about! Yay, segue.

This is PD James’s 12th mystery featuring Adam Dalgliesh, and one thing I’ve noticed in my Extensive and Scholarly study of her novels is that she has a pretty strict formula she sticks to:

1-Introduce some interesting characters for like a hundred pages. There’s a lot of tension. Someone’s gonna get got!

2-MUUUUUUURDER. In this case, Neville Dupayne, museum trustee, heir, psychologist, and mistress to his female assistant (what is the word for a man-mistress?), dies in a fire.

3-Adam D arrives on the scene and begins his inquiries by talking to each suspect individually. The suspects are most commonly tied together by some sort of working relationship. In The Murder Room, they all work in the fictional Dupayne Museum, which is dedicated to English inter-war history. In James’s later books, the place of work tends to be an aging institution whose survival is threatened by one person (who gets got!). Here, the murder might have been committed by Neville’s siblings (brother and sister), who are his co-trustees, one of the museum employees or volunteers, the husband of the woman he was shtupping, etc. The complexities that develop in relationships even among casual acquaintances are put on display.

Are you so interested in this breakdown?

3-ANOTHER MUUUUUURDER. Adam D is maybe close to arriving at a conclusion—I personally never have any idea what that is. And then maybe there’s another murder, if PD’s feeling really sassy.

In The Murder Room, some girl who’s sort of only tangentially related to the plot gets murdered.

4-Adam D. has figured it out! Regrets, there are many. Thoughts about poetry (Adam is a poet on the side), etc.

Anyway, all this is to say that what’s interesting about PD James, and the reason I’ve decided to read all her books, is that she’s such a wonderful inventor of complex characters, and of realistic relationships, and those are the things that make these mysteries so compelling. It’s not who did it, so much as why. What circumstances, what frame of mind could lead someone to murder? And she’s a fantastic writer of place—there’s an attentiveness which to me seems a lot like love (of the English landscape and of the often troubling history that has marked that landscape).  In my opinion, anyway.

 

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