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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Murder Room by P.D. James


Another Adam Dalgliesh murder mystery. In this one is a private museum called the DuPayne Museum in London and it is devoted to the years between WWI and WWII (1919-1939). One room of the museum is called the Murder Room because it holds the exhibits of famous murders from that time. The 3 siblings who inherited the museum are at odds about whether to keep the museum open or not. One man, Dr. Neville DuPayne, wants to close it and sell everything for the money. He is a psychiatrist with a troubled adult daughter who is demanding the money. The oldest brother is Marcus DuPayne and he is retiring with his frustrated socially ambitious wife. He was never able to reach the heights that his wife desired but he has the prestige of being able to run the family museum. Their sister is Caroline DuPayne, single, and works as a Vice Principal at an elite finishing school for girls. She has an apartment at the DuPayne Museum and wants to keep the museum so she can keep the apartment. She is very willing for her brother, Marcus, to take over the running of the museum as she aspires to own the finishing school herself one day. Of the staff, there is a young gay man named Ryan Archer with a troubled, migratory past who works in the yard. Muriel Godby was hired from the finishing school since some of the girls had taken a dislike to her and made her life miserable. She helps Caroline DuPayne run the museum. Then there is sweet Tally Clutton, the housekeeper, and she lives in a cottage on the grounds. She is worried about losing her job and losing her cottage if the museum is closed.

After an argument between the siblings about whether to keep the museum open or not, Dr. Neville DuPayne is found murdered. He keeps his Jaguar garaged at the museum and he is sitting in the Jag when he is doused with gasoline and set on fire. Who did it? All of them have motives just on the surface. But Adam Dalgliesh and his crew have to sift deeper to find the real reasons and then which one of them actually did it.

P.D. James writes wonderfully well and I enjoy her mysteries but they are a little gloomy. Her very British characters are all a little too stalwart, uncommunicative, holding too much to the chest which seems to make them cold. Their "pree-vacy" means much more to them than honor, honesty, or any other virtue. Very selfish, cold and calculating and godless. Yes, I said "godless". She makes it a point to have at least one character that mocks Christianity or talks openly about their atheistic views. She does make that point in every book. Christianity and God are not just ignored in her books but at least one character makes a statement about it. God is dismissed as ridiculous and no intelligent human would seriously believe in God. It's sad. I think that is why I like Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas series because Koontz has positive Christian characters just like he has other positive "odd" characters. He presents all his characters (not the villains) with a positive light. They are different, odd, eccentric, have different interests or even handicaps but he presents them in a positive light. But James' can make even her "good" characters look cold, selfish, materialistic, overly ambitious, etc. For instance, Dalgliesh is so afraid of rejection and wounded pride that he won't communicate with his lady love, Emma. He is too afraid of saying, "I love you." Kate Miskin and her colleagues are so ambitious that they step on each other. She wants financial security above all else because of the poverty she grew up in. And she hugs that financial security to herself every day and makes sure it's part of her every waking thought. She is constantly jockeying and thinking in order to keep that "financial security".

Anyway, P.D. James is always a good read, her mysteries are always interesting and they're not solved by knowing the clues on the surface.

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