James, P. D. Death in Holy Orders.

NY: Knopf, 2001.

In the earlier books in this series featuring Scotland Yard Commander Adam Dalgliesh, he tends to be a loner, investigating a mystery by himself, either by preference or because circumstances force it on him.

In the later books, Dalgliesh is very much the modern law enforcement executive, heading up an elite team of homicide investigative specialists and evidence technicians. This time, in one of the best of the series, he manages both methods, shifting from old style to new at the halfway point of the narrative.

Adam’s father was a Norfolk rector (which is why he always seems to know so much about the British religious establishment, not to mention theology and doctrine) and when he was an adolescent, he spent several summers at St. Anselm’s Theological College down in Suffolk, hanging out with the priests and indulging his taste for solitude along the sandy cliffs overlooking the sea. Now, thirty years after his last visit, he’s making plans for his upcoming holiday when word comes that the wealthy father of a young ordinand (a post-university student preparing for the Anglican priesthood) wants him to look into the death of his son; was it an accident, as the corner ruled, or was it a suicide? Dalgliesh agrees to see what he can turn up and off he goes.

James follows her usual method of not only introducing the reader to the caste of characters but exploring their lives in considerable detail. (Some people love this narrative method but the impatient readers hate it.) There’s the semi-retired nurse with the bad heart who looks after the college’s linen (she soon dies, too), there’s the vulnerable young handyman and his incestuous half-sister who looks out for him rather aggressively, there’s the classical scholar who teaches Ancient Greek to the students as the price of pursuing his own studies, and there’s the cook and her estate-manager husband. There are a handful of students (only a few of the usual twenty are in residence at the moment), including Raphael, an entrancingly beautiful young man who also happens to be the last descendant of the college’s founder.

And, of course, there are the four priests, one of whom is Father Sebastian, the Warden of the college. The others include the retired ex-Warden whom Adam knows from years ago, a somewhat OCD librarian who sees nothing beyond his books, and a retiring and perpetually uneasy convicted pedophile who was hounded into a prison sentence by yet another priest who is now an archdeacon.

Ah, yes: Archdeacon Crampton. A real piece of work he is. The feelings of all the other players where he’s concerned range from scorn to loathing to outright hatred. And he has some sketchy history of his own. It’s no surprise when he’s beaten to death in the college’s church, and that’s where Adam stops being a visitor politely poking around and becomes the Police. The pool of suspects, as always in a story like this, is quite limited, but every one of them has a motive or one sort or another for wanting to do in the archdeacon.

As Dalgliesh and his team do their interviews at the college itself, and go off to chase down evidence and possible witnesses that their questions have led to, the reader can begin to rank the possible suspects by likelihood of guilt, but one can expect to change one’s mind several times. James is also perfectly capable of allowing the most obvious candidate to turn out to be the Bad Guy. This one should keep you absorbed.

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Published in: on 29 July 2013 at 5:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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