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Death of an Expert Witness (Adam Dalgliesh #6)
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PD James Challenge/Buddy Reads > June 2020: Death of an Expert Witness (1977) by P.D. James

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Susan | 9415 comments Mod
Welcome to our June 2020 Challenge Read: Death of an Expert Witness Death of an Expert Witness (Adam Dalgliesh #6) by P.D. James by P.D. James. First published in 1977 this is the sixth book in the Inspector Adam Dalgliesh series.

When a brilliant forensic scientist is found murdered in his own laboratory, Scotland Yard is called to the scene. The victim, a well-respected, authoritative member of the scientific community, was unpleasant to and greatly disliked by those who worked closest to him, leaving detectives with a wealth of suspects and murderous motives. P.D. James’ beloved detective Adam Dalgliesh is the one man who can sort through the lies, chasing down the truth to the book’s powerful climax.

Please do not post spoilers in this thread. Thank you.


Susan | 9415 comments Mod
As it is the weekend, and the first of the month, in a day or two, let's get this discussion started. I have started this, but am not too far in yet. Anyone else embarking on another mystery with P.D. James?


Roman Clodia | 733 comments I'm about to make a start on it - I've found myself looking forward to it immensely.

I had previously been under the impression that they were urban, London-set stories but from the blurb on my edition this is again set in a bleak landscape.


Susan | 9415 comments Mod
That's a good point. She tends to use quite a few isolated, or, perhaps rather, self-contained, locations, doesn't she?


message 5: by Judy (last edited May 30, 2020 12:09AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8409 comments Mod
I have started this but am still at a very early stage. I think quite a few of hers are set in rural locations, sometimes in East Anglia - this one is in the Fens.


Roman Clodia | 733 comments About 30 pages in: I like the slant focusing on the lab staff associated with police work. It's become quite standard now to have a medical examiner/forensic pathologist as part of the extended investigation team, but I wonder if James was one of the first given that this was published in 1977? Take that, CSI!


message 7: by Trisha (last edited May 30, 2020 04:33AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Trisha | 76 comments Judy wrote: "I have started this but am still at a very early stage. I think quite a few of hers are set in rural locations, sometimes in East Anglia - this one is in the Fens."

I agree about the East Anglia locations, that’s what I remember most about the televised versions of her books. I was surprised to find that our May read was set in Dorset as I had visualised it in Suffolk! I had completely forgotten the references to various Dorset towns.

I will join the June read too, probably starting in the next couple of days.


Elizabeth (Alaska) I finished this several days ago. I almost envy those of you who are just starting it. I liked it the best of the bunch so far - in my review I say that I think James "hit her stride" with this one.


message 9: by Sandy (new)

Sandy | 2549 comments Mod
I will be reading it as well, but it is 3-4 books in the future as several library requests became available. This is the last book in my six volumes in one book deal I bought just before 2020. It, along with a couple of Christie short story collections, has been on my GR 'currently reading' list for a very long time.


message 10: by Sandy (new)

Sandy | 2549 comments Mod
Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "I finished this several days ago. I almost envy those of you who are just starting it. I liked it the best of the bunch so far - in my review I say that I think James "hit her stride" with this one."

I'm looking forward to starting!


Elizabeth (Alaska) Sandy wrote: " This is the last book in my six volumes in one book deal I bought just before 2020. ."

Mine, too. I ended up purchasing the next three, not being sure about being able to use the library. It turns out I would have had library access to them, but we've added a reward for reading books we own in my challenge group, so I'm glad I picked them up anyway.


Roman Clodia | 733 comments Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "I finished this several days ago. I almost envy those of you who are just starting it. I liked it the best of the bunch so far - in my review I say that I think James "hit her stride" with this one."

I agree: already this feels very assured in the writing and the way it's juggling various stories.


message 13: by Sandy (new)

Sandy | 2549 comments Mod
Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "Sandy wrote: " This is the last book in my six volumes in one book deal I bought just before 2020. ."

Mine, too. I ended up purchasing the next three, not being sure about being able to use the li..."


I've tried a challenge like that but wasn't sure if I should count books bought after the challenge started. I never did read books quicker than I acquired them.


message 14: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited May 30, 2020 08:13AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Elizabeth (Alaska) Sandy wrote: "I've tried a challenge like that but wasn't sure if I should count books bought after the challenge started. I never did read books quicker than I acquired them."

I have a similar problem, of course. In this challenge, you must read books in your possession as of June 1. This is just a bonus and the criteria for which books you read is separate.


Roman Clodia | 733 comments I'm about 150 pages in and all action has stalled as Dalgleish interviews everyone in turn - so repetitive! Hope we move on soon...

I was struck by how low the qualifications are to be a scientist in a forensic lab: one or two A levels are all that's needed. And a senior biologist is a Ms not a Dr (I mean a PhD not a medical Dr). I also didn't know Ms was a thing in 1977, I always thought it came in later. As usual, I love the insight into how life was.


Roman Clodia | 733 comments Oh, and every time I see 'Hoggarts' on the page, my mind reads 'Hogwarts'!


Susan | 9415 comments Mod
I have sat through ALL the Harry Potter films - again - with my daughter, during lockdown, so everything is saying Hogwarts to me! :)


message 18: by Jill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 1864 comments And to me,and I haven't read the books in years


message 19: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8409 comments Mod
I'm wishing there was a Marsh-style list of characters at the start, as I'm getting them mixed up with each other at the moment. But I'm still quite early in the book.


message 20: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8409 comments Mod
Interesting how James moves away from traditional country house mysteries after the first in the series, but keeps writing about institutions which are set in converted country houses - we've had the nurse training school, the home for disabled people and now this forensic science lab in the Fens.


message 21: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited May 31, 2020 01:16PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Elizabeth (Alaska) Judy wrote: "Interesting how James moves away from traditional country house mysteries after the first in the series, but keeps writing about institutions which are set in converted country houses - we've had t..."

Good observation, Judy. We also had the mental health institute - wasn't that a converted house? And then Dalgliesh took his vacation on the Suffolk coast. That wasn't a "house" mystery, but the collection of homes arranged the number of suspects to a specific geographic area and made it house related.


Carolien (carolien_s) | 442 comments My 10-year old has just started reading the Harry Potter series - she's on book 4, so yes, I'm also reading Hogwarts instead of Hoggart!

Really enjoyed the introduction - there will be no shortage of suspects and motives.

The setting reminds me of The Nine Tailors out on the Fens.


message 23: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8409 comments Mod
Carolien wrote: "Really enjoyed the introduction - there will be no shortage of suspects and motives...."

Definitely no shortage, Carolien - I'm about halfway through and still struggling to keep track of so many characters! Enjoying it though.


message 24: by Judy (last edited Jun 01, 2020 01:03AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8409 comments Mod
Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: " We also had the mental health institute - wasn't that a converted house? And then Dalgliesh took his vacation on the Suffolk coast. That wasn't a "house" mystery, but the collection of homes arranged the number of suspects to a specific geographic area and made it house related. ..."

Thank you, Elizabeth. I think the mental health institue was in London (not 100% sure though!) but definitely another converted house, and I agree there was quite a country house feel to the story on the Suffolk coast.


Roman Clodia | 733 comments I, unusually for me with James, think I've pinpointed the murderer... though no idea why!


message 26: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8409 comments Mod
I also have my suspicions, RC, but I may well be wrong!


Elizabeth (Alaska) I had suspicions early, discarded, then another, discarded, then another ...


Roman Clodia | 733 comments Haha, I'm sticking with mine, though I still don't have a motive.

Unlike Christie, I don't think James really expects readers to play detective - I think she'd think it's a bit infra dig - is that unfair?


Elizabeth (Alaska) Roman Clodia wrote: "Unlike Christie, I don't think James really expects readers to play detective "

I think I wasn't really playing detective, but of course with mystery novels, that program always runs in the background. And yes, I would agree with you that Christie deliberately planted as many red herrings as she could fit onto the page. I like that James has a story to tell, complete with characterizations, that just happen to fit into the mystery genre.

As to the above comment about all the interviewing. I don't read enough police procedurals to quickly identify them, but does this fit more into that category?


Roman Clodia | 733 comments Yes, it might fit the procedural label. It wasn't so much the series of interviews as the fact that they repeated what we already knew. Once things moved on I was fine.

I have about 50 pages to go, Dalgleish and Massingham know who did it but they're giving nothing away.

Christie 'played fair' in that we had all the clues and could solve the mystery. I agree, though, that James is writing a different kind of book.


message 31: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8409 comments Mod
So far I quite like Massingham - I think he and Dalgliesh are making a good combination. But I have a feeling we may not get any regular sidekicks in this series.


Roman Clodia | 733 comments I enjoyed the tensions between Dalgleish and Massingham. What is it about detective writers, though, insisting that the police force is riddled with aristocrats?! I kind of forgive Elizabeth George her Earl because she's American ;)

Finished and popping over to the spoiler thread.


message 33: by Rosina (new)

Rosina (rosinarowantree) | 663 comments Roman Clodia wrote: "I enjoyed the tensions between Dalgleish and Massingham. What is it about detective writers, though, insisting that the police force is riddled with aristocrats?! I kind of forgive Elizabeth George..."

I like Inspector Appleby, who is university educated, but middle-class - possibly lower-middle at that, from an undistinguished provincial town in the Midlands. He marries into the non-aristocratic gentry, though.


message 34: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8409 comments Mod
Roman Clodia wrote: "I enjoyed the tensions between Dalgleish and Massingham. What is it about detective writers, though, insisting that the police force is riddled with aristocrats?! I kind of forgive Elizabeth George..."

Maybe it's another nod to the Golden Age - like all those converted country houses!


Roman Clodia | 733 comments Yes, possibly - I hadn't thought of that!


Lesley | 383 comments Your comment, RC, that "James is writing a different kind of book" cements my feeling that she's writing a mystery more like a novel where she's not giving you the details in order. She's telling more a story than writing to a genre. I am often reminded of Tey's writing.

I don't know whether it frustrates me or not, but here we are in book six and really still don't know Adam Dalgliesh that well! Probably learn more about the characters than he himself. He has been likened to Alleyn or Wimsey, but I felt I knew both of them on a more personal level than I do Dalgliesh. Anything we do learn about him is more vague and in the background.

I'm enjoying this book possibly more than some we've already read, but I am overwhelmed with keeping track of the characters as most of us are. I do enjoy her descriptions though. I think she sets a scene really well where you can feel the bleakness of the Fens, hear the hollow sound of the footsteps in the chapel ...


Elizabeth (Alaska) As to the number of characters: this is the first time that I felt the supporting characters were more distinct and that keeping them straight was less of a problem than in the previous installments. They had different jobs, they were of different ages and James gave them different voices. Or this is the way it seemed to me anyway. But I'll go on to say that now that I've read 2-1/2 novels since then, I remember few of the names of any of them.


message 38: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8409 comments Mod
Lesley wrote: "I don't know whether it frustrates me or not, but here we are in book six and really still don't know Adam Dalgliesh that well! ..."

Interesting, Lesley. I agree - there is something very distant about him. I was interested to see that Massingham starts thinking about how cold Dalgliesh seems in this book.


message 39: by Sandy (new)

Sandy | 2549 comments Mod
Judy wrote: "Lesley wrote: "I don't know whether it frustrates me or not, but here we are in book six and really still don't know Adam Dalgliesh that well! ..."

Interesting, Lesley. I agree - there is somethin..."


Count me as #3; he could be any investigator. I still enjoy the books but comparing this series to the Kincaid and James series by Deborah Crombie that I am reading as fast as my requests become available, I have no interest in what is next for Dalgliesh. (Crombie's characters have romantic interests and personal lives which I know many do not want mixed with their mysteries.)


message 40: by Sandy (last edited Jun 02, 2020 05:23AM) (new)

Sandy | 2549 comments Mod
I have started the book now. I'm hoping for one particular person to be the victim (justifiable homicide!) and am paying close attention to all the characters as they are introduced. No Dalgleish as yet.


Susan | 9415 comments Mod
It is interesting that sometimes the investigator is central to the storyline and sometimes less so. I feel that Dalgliesh will remain a somewhat distance presence, although I haven't read them all. I quite like the fact that James introduces the characters in fairly good depth, which puts the murder more in context. So often, the murder can seem secondary to the investigation, so I think it is a difficult balance.


message 42: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8409 comments Mod
Sandy wrote: "I have started the book now. I'm hoping for one particular person to be the victim (justifiable homicide!) ..."

I know what you mean, Sandy!


message 43: by Sandy (new)

Sandy | 2549 comments Mod
I've finished and will be going over to the spoiler thread soon once I have digested it a bit.

Have others noticed how many characters have some item of clothing that is fawn? I might even use the kindle search feature for a count for my own amusement.


Roman Clodia | 733 comments Haha, I didn't notice the fawn but did note how many men were wearing corduroy - must have been a 1970s thing.


Susan | 9415 comments Mod
I am about three quarters of the way through now. Enjoying it much more - lots of motives and suspects. Looking forward to finding out whodunnit!


Carol Palmer | 56 comments I just finished this one. I found it to be enjoyable, but for some reason, I'm getting a little tired of Dalgleish. It's not that I dislike him, it's just that he seems to be rather flat in his personality.


message 47: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8409 comments Mod
Carol wrote: "I just finished this one. I found it to be enjoyable, but for some reason, I'm getting a little tired of Dalgleish. It's not that I dislike him, it's just that he seems to be rather flat in his per..."

I'd agree he is a bit hard to warm to - I wonder why James made him so detached and reserved?


Susan | 9415 comments Mod
It's an interesting thought. I always think James is more about the suspects, than the detective. Other authors work the other way round, with the detective as the central character, but Dalgliesh is always the detached observer. James puts a lot of effort into setting the scene, usually before Dalgliesh puts in an appearance, doesn't she?


message 49: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8409 comments Mod
She does - I sometimes almost forget that Dalgliesh is due to turn up! This also happens with Ngaio Marsh's Alleyn books.


Tracey | 236 comments Sandy wrote: "I have started the book now. I'm hoping for one particular person to be the victim (justifiable homicide!) and am paying close attention to all the characters as they are introduced. No Dalgleish a..."

Ha ha! I completely agree. Have just started and am wishing a particular person turns out to be the victim!


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