James, P. D. Unnatural Causes.

NY: Scribner, 1967.

This is only the third of this author’s detective novels and already it’s a considerable improvement over the first two. James was a fast learner. Chief Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh has just completed a difficult and exhausting case and he’s headed for a week’s holiday up in Suffolk with his spinster aunt, Jane. Being rather like Adam in various ways, she’s easy to be around and he’s looking forward to peaceful walks on the beach and sitting quietly by the fireside.

However, the isolated neighborhood where Jane lives is also the part-time home of a gaggle of writers (detective-story-type, of course) and literary critics, and Adam has hardly set down his suitcase when they all turn up on Jane’s doorstep, worried about one of their number who seems to have disappeared. And then a body is found adrift in a dinghy with its hands lopped off — the missing writer. No vacation for Adam, it seems. Although he isn’t even in charge of this case — that goes to the local homicide man, DI Reckless — he can’t turn his brain off, so he becomes involved whether he wants to be or not. And things get even more complicated when it appears that the deceased actually died of natural causes. (But keep the title in mind.) James follows her pattern of introducing all the suspects at once almost on the first page (she kind of got away from that habit in her later novels, fortunately) and she also takes every opportunity to make tongue-in-cheek comments and observations about the life and psychology of authors. Dalgliesh is given more emotional depth as well, as he tries to decide what to do about the girl he met in the first novel. This is one of the better ones among James’s early books.

Published in: on 7 August 2010 at 9:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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