Book review: The Murder Room

PD JamesWritten in 2003 this, the 12th in the Adam Dalgliesh crime fiction series by PD James, is preceded by an excerpt from TS Eliot’s poem ‘Burnt Norton’:

‘Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.’

Time is a theme layered throughout this book. Its setting is the Dupayne Museum on Hampstead Heath, so historical time is represented by the exhibits at the museum. Time, recently passed, is examined and re-examined as part of the murder investigation. Time future, is represented by the theme of Adam Dalgliesh’s love for Emma and his courtship of her, a path not easy or untroubled.

Like all Dalgliesh novels, murder happens within a tight community. The Dupayne Museum has a small community of owners, staff and visitors. At first glance the victims are not clearly attached to the museum, but this is a James novel: of course they are, we just don’t know how yet.

The murder doesn’t happen for quite a while as James takes her time introducing us to the circle of potential victims and criminals, their connection to the museum and their life outside it. There is an air of the past about it, as if it was written in the thirties, an antidote to modern fast-paced modern crime novels so in itself representing a portrait of changing crime fiction. Time is given to characterization, setting, motivation, and not to dramatic action scenes: more Christie and Sayers than James or Rankin.

In the course of reading The Murder Room, I considered why I enjoy reading detective novels and what I take from them. I like the mystery, the tension of the chase, the fitting together of disparate elements. I do not like violence, graphic sex or language. But most of all, I like the examination of human nature, the contradictions, the surprises, the privacy of the mind laid bare. PD James excels at all of this; she remains my favourite author of crime fiction, and Adam Dalgliesh my favourite detective.

Read my reviews of the previous 11 Dalgliesh mysteries:-
Cover Her Face #1
A Mind to Murder #2
Unnatural Causes #3 
Shroud for a Nightingale #4 
The Black Tower #5
Death of an Expert Witness #6
A Taste for Death #7
Devices and Desires #8 
Original Sin #9 
A Certain Justice #10
Death in Holy Orders #11 

If you like crime fiction, try these:-
‘The Shadows in the Street’ by Susan Hill
‘Due Diligence’ by DJ Harrison
‘The Truth Will Out’ by Jane Isaac 

‘The Murder Room’ by PD James, #12 Adam Dalgliesh [UK: Vintage] Buy now

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