Hannah's Reviews > Death in Holy Orders

Death in Holy Orders by P.D. James
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's review
Nov 10, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: 2011-reads, mysteries, police-procedurals
Read in November, 2011

Commander Adam Dalgliesh of New Scotland Yard has been asked by Sir Alred Treeves to take a closer look into the suspicious death of his adopted son Ronald, who suffocated under the cliffs near St. Anselms by an avalanche of sand. Was it an accident, suicide, or murder? Dalgliesh, the son of a rector, has former ties to the school - as a young teen, he spent several happy summer holidays there among the priests and ordinands.

There is no shortage of possible suspects, or motives, for Ronald's death. But before Dalgliesh even arrives on the scene, another death occurs - a death everyone else considers natural and expected. Dalgliesh wonders otherwise. As the body count continues to rise, so too the means, motive and opportunity of almost the entire community of St. Anselms. Dalgliesh and his team steadily work to reveal the killer or killers before someone else falls victim. Long-time widower Dalgliesh is furthered hampered in the investigation by his unexpected feelings for a visiting guest lecturer, Emma Lavenham. Will the possibility of love turn out to be a blessing or curse for Dalgliesh?

Death in Holy Orders is another extremely entertaining whodunnit by P.D. James, and without a doubt my favorite (so far) of the three I've read (in backwards order). Very possibly, this has everything to do with the excellent TV adaptation starring Martin Shaw as Dalgliesh, Robert Hardy as Father Martin and Jesse Spencer as Raphael Arbuthnot. The movie stayed fundamentally true to the events from the book, but also added another layer of texture to the story and characters IMO.

The thing I liked most about the story was the backdrop; St. Anselms, the fictional elitist theological college on a remote Suffolk coast, which is known for turning out the best and brightest Anglican priests, but is now in danger of being decommissioned by the CoE powers that be (not to mention the very real threat of the college tumbling into the North Sea by an eroding cliffline). The solitude found in and around the setting, along with the contemplative (almost monastic) aspect of the story definitely appealed to my personal taste. The characters carried around their own brand of P.D. James' favorite pet vices; petty power struggles, greed, various sexual insecurities/proclivities, religious apathy and a pervading sense of depression.

Good, if predictable, fare. I'll have more, please.
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