Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Black Tower - P.D. James

    1975; 284 pages.  Book #5  of the Adam Dalgleish series.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Murder Mystery.  Overall Rating : 7*/10.

    Adam Dalgleish missed the boat.  Father Baddeley, his boyhood curate, wrote to him asking him to come visit and give him some "professional advice".  Since Dalgleish is a detective, it could be a criminal matter.  Unfortunately, Dalgleish was laid up in the hospital, and by the time he got out and up to Toynton Grange, where the old curate lived, Father Baddeley had passed away.

    No foul play is suspected, but now it seems a suspicious amount of dying is going on there.  It “feels” like murders are being committed, but where is the evidence or the motive?

What’s To Like...
    The setting is neat; Toynton Grange is kind of a hospice for terminally-ill wheelchair-bound patients.  It’s a small operation – only five patients by the time Dalgleish gets there, plus a staff of eight or so.  That makes for a nice number of suspects.  And while some of the characters were more congenial than others; there were no blatant “black hats”.  So the suspect list remains sizable throughout the book, shrinking only whenever another body is discovered.

    The writing style is “flowery”, especially at the beginning.  I found it distracting, although things got better once Dalgleish started his investigation.  There were also a whole bunch of descriptive passages; which slowed things down more than they set the scene.  There are clues to be found amongst the flowers and the descriptions, but both Dalgleish and I missed them.

    The ending was good – neither too obvious nor too arbitrary.  It was nice to get acquainted with Dalgleish, despite him being yet another fictional sleuth burnt out and contemplating retiring from the force.  The book is a stand-alone, and it’s hard to say if I was missing anything by not reading the series in order.

Kewlest New Word...
    Minatory : Expressing or conveying a threat; e.g. : a "minatory finger-wagging.

    Mogg, his greatest and, she sometimes thought, his only friend, had been christened Morgan Evans but preferred to use his nickname, regarding it as more appropriate to a poet of the people’s struggle.  It was not that Mogg struggled greatly himself; indeed Ursula had never met anyone who drank and ate so resolutely at other people’s expense.  He chanted his confused battle cries to anarchy and hatred in local pubs where his hairy and sad-eyed followers listened in silence or spasmodically banged the table with their beer mugs amid grunts of approval.  (pg. 37 )

    She wondered how she had never noticed it before, that irritating note of unctuous reproof in his voice.  She turned abruptly away.  The hand, thus rejected, slipped heavily from her shoulders.  She remembered suddenly what he reminded her of: the sugar Father Christmas on her first Christmas tree, so desirable, so passionately desired.  And you bit into nothingness; a trace of sweetness on the tongue and then an empty cavity grained with white sand.  (pg. 238)

“We all suffer from a progressive incurable disease.  We call it life.”  (pg. 51)
    The worst thing about The Black Tower was something P.D. James probably had no control over – the back cover blurb.  It gives far too much away – telling you the number of people that are going to die, and essentially who they are.  That thoroughly quashed any suspense the story had.

    Beyond that, my only quibble is the way the wheelchair-bound patients were portrayed.  I was expecting them to be courageous, innovative, and some to be evil enough to be suspects.  But instead they were mostly pitiable. 

    For me, The Black Tower was an okay read, but not a memorable one.  If I find another Dalgleish novel at the used-book store, I'll probably give the series another go.  It might be that I just picked the wrong one to start off with.  7 Stars.

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