A Certain Justice (Adam Dalgliesh Series #10)

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Overview

In a masterful new Adam Dalgliesh mystery, P.D. James enters the labyrinthine world of the law, forging a deeply compelling human drama from the complex passions that lie behind both murder and justice.


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A Certain Justice (Adam Dalgliesh Series #10)

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Overview

In a masterful new Adam Dalgliesh mystery, P.D. James enters the labyrinthine world of the law, forging a deeply compelling human drama from the complex passions that lie behind both murder and justice.


From the Paperback edition.

THIS TITLE COMES FROM MORTALIS: Mysteries and Thrillers

Random House Trade Paperbacks is please to present Mortalis, a line of books featuring mysteries and thrillers that are historical and/or international in scope. The list includes trade paperback originals as well as reprints of classic mysteries, international thrillers, and the occasional tale of true crime.

"Mortalis gives us an ideal way to introduce the best new writers as well as to celebrate the masters in these genres," said Jane von Mehren, Vice President and Publisher, Trade Paperbacks, Random House Publishing Group.

Mortalis republishes some classic authors such as Martin Cruz Smith , P. D. James, Robert Harris, Agatha Christie, and Wilkie Collins as well as original trade paperbacks such as Boris Akunin's SISTER PELAGIA AND THE WHITE BULLDOG (the start of a new series from an internationally bestselling author), New York Times Notable author David Corbett's BLOOD OF PARADISE, and Alex Carr's literary thriller AN ACCIDENTAL AMERICAN. Featuring stunning new packaging, each title contains a "dossier" in the back-a brand new commentary section that illuminates a specific and intriguing aspect of the work, or the author's career.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
A brilliant barrister's defense of a charming sociopath goes horribly wrong when the sociopath engages himself to her daughter, and the barrister herself is found dead in her chambers -- a tight little world peopled with mincing suspects whom it's Commander Adam Dalgliesh's job to unmask.

—Tom Leitch

School Library Journal
Venetia Aldridge, a brilliant barrister, has "four weeks, four hours and fifty minutes left of life." By the time her murder is discovered, readers have not only met most of the suspects, but have also begun to sympathize with whomever might have done her in. Everyone in the victim's life, from her 18-year-old daughter to the retiring head of chambers, from her former lover to the cleaning woman, has cause to have wished her ill. Adam Dalgleish, James's poetry penning sleuth, and his assistants, especially Kate Miskin, investigate the many possible suspects. After much examination of the past and present, the murderer is discovered and a certain justice is meted out. As with many of the author's mysteries, psychology and motivation are as important as whodunit and the conundrum presented here is thought-provoking. Much of the action centers around the rebellious daughter and there is a suspense-filled scene in which she and her psychopathic boyfriend try to evade Dalgleish, only to have young Octavia discover that she needs to evade the boyfriend instead. YA's who enjoy James and those ready for a bit of a fright with their English mysteries will surely take to this adventure. Susan H. Woodcock, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA
From the Publisher
"P.D. James is an addictive writer, [with] a quality of intelligence, a genuine curiosity about character, and an ability to describe the density of little known lives." —Anita Brookner

"A page-turning journey ... along the darker, twisted byways of human intentions." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A Certain Justice has all James' hallmarks: elegance of language, a stellar sense of place, exquisitely defined characters, and a skillfully rendered tale of moral justice." —The Globe and Mail

"A whacking great whodunit." —The Calgary Sun

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345425324
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/4/2003
  • Series: Adam Dalgliesh Series , #10
  • Edition description: First Ballantine Books Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 258,089
  • Product dimensions: 5.16 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

P. D. James

P.D. James is the author of fourteen previous books, nine of which have been filmed and broadcast on television. She spent thirty years in various sections of the British Civil Service, including the Police and Criminal Law Departments of the Home Office. She has served as a magistrate and as a governor of the BBC. P.D. James is the recipient of many prizes and honors, and in 1991 was created Baroness James of Holland Park.

Biography

Few writers have left so indelible an impression on crime fiction as P. D. (Phyllis Dorothy) James, an author whose elegant, bestselling novels have found an appreciative audience among readers and critics alike. James's intricately plotted books are filled with macabre events and shocking twists and turns, yet they are so beautifully written and morally complex that they cannot be dismissed as mere murder mysteries...although, in James's view, there's nothing "mere" about mysteries!

In James's native Britain (home of Wilkie Collins, Graham Greene, and the redoubtable Agatha Christie), the mystery is a time-honored form that has never been considered inferior. James explained her feelings in a 1998 interview with Salon.com: "It isn't easy to make this division and say: That's genre fiction and it's useless, and this is the so-called straight novel and we take it seriously. Novels are either good novels or they're not good novels, and that is the dividing line for me."

Although she always wanted to be a novelist, James came to writing relatively late in life. Her formal schooling ended at 16, when she went to work to help out her cash-strapped parents. In 1941 she married a doctor assigned to the Royal Army Medical Corps. He returned from WWII with a severe mental illness that lasted until his death in 1964, necessitating that James become the family breadwinner. She worked in hospital administration and then in various departments of the British Civil Service until her retirement in 1979. (Her experience navigating the labyrinthine corridors of government bureaucracies has provided a believable backdrop for many of her books.)

James's first novel, Cover Her Face, was published in 1962. An immediate success, it introduced the first of her two longtime series protagonists -- Adam Dalgleish, a police inspector in Scotland Yard and a published poet. Her second recurring character, a young private detective named Cordelia Gray, debuted in 1972's An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. Both Dalgliesh and Cordelia went on to star in a string of international bestsellers.

James has only occasionally departed from her series, most notably for the standalone mystery Innocent Blood (1980) and the dystopian sci-fi classic Children of Men (1992), which was turned into an Oscar-nominated film. In 2000, she published a slender "fragment of autobiography" called A Time to Be Earnest, described by The New York Time Book Review as " deeply moving, and all too short."

Good To Know

  • In television mini-series that have aired in the U.S. on PBS, British actors Roy Marsden and Martin Shaw have portrayed Adam Dalgliesh and Helen Baxendale has starred as Cordelia Gray.

  • James explained the essence of a murder mystery in a 2004 essay for Britain's Guardian: "E. M. Forster has written, 'The king died and then the queen died is a story. The king died and the queen died of grief is a plot. The queen died and no one knew why until they discovered it was of grief is a mystery, a form capable of high development.' To that I would add: the queen died and everyone thought it was of grief until they discovered the puncture wound in her throat. That is a murder mystery and, in my view, it too is capable of high development. "

  • In 1983, James was awarded the OBE. In 1991 she was made a Life Peer (Baroness James of Holland Park).

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      1. Also Known As:
        Phyllis Dorothy James White (full name)
      2. Hometown:
        London, England
      1. Date of Birth:
        August 3, 1920
      2. Place of Birth:
        Oxford, England
      1. Education:
        Attended the Cambridge High School for Girls from 1931 to 1937 and later took evening classes in hospital administration

    Read an Excerpt

    Murderers do not usually give their victims notice. This is one death which, however terrible that last second of appalled realization, comes mercifully unburdened with anticipatory terror. When, on the afternoon of Wednesday, 11 September, Venetia Aldridge stood up to cross-examine the prosecution's chief witness in the case of Regina v. Ashe, she had four weeks, four hours and fifty minutes left of life. After her death the many who had admired her and the few who had liked her, searching for a more personal response than the stock adjectives of horror and outrage, found themselves muttering that it would have pleased Venetia that her last case of murder had been tried at the Bailey, scene of her greatest triumphs, and in her favourite court.

    But there was truth in the inanity.

    Court Number One had laid its spell on her since she had first entered it as a pupil. She had always tried to discipline that part of her mind which she suspected could be seduced by tradition or history, yet she responded to this elegant wood-panelled theatre with an aesthetic satisfaction and a lifting of the spirit which was one of the keenest pleasures of her professional life. There was a rightness about the size and proportions, an appropriate dignity in the richly carved coat of arms above the dais, and the glittering seventeenth-century Sword of Justice suspended beneath it, an intriguing contrast between the witness box, canopied like a miniature pulpit, and the wide dock, in which the accused sat level-eyed with the judge. Like all places perfectly designed for their purpose with nothing wanting, nothing superfluous, it induced a sense of timeless calm, even the illusion that the passionsof men were susceptible to order and control. Once from curiosity she had gone into the public gallery and had sat for a minute looking down at the empty court and it had seemed to her that only here, where the spectators sat close-packed, was the air knotted with decades of human terror, hope and despair. And now she was once more in the place where she belonged. She hadn't expected the case to be heard in the Old Bailey's most famous court or to be judged by a High Court Judge, but a previous trial had collapsed and the judge's sittings and court allocation had been reorganized. It was a happy omen. She had lost in Court One, but the memories of defeats there were not bitter. More often she had won.

    Today, as always in court, she reserved her gaze for the judge, the jury, the witnesses. She seldom conferred with her junior, spoke to Ashe's solicitor seated in front of her or kept the court waiting even momentarily while she searched in her papers for a note. No defending counsel went into court better prepared. And she rarely glanced at her client, and then, when possible, without too obviously turning her head towards the dock. But his silent presence dominated her mind as she knew it did the court. Garry Ashe, aged twenty-one years and three months, accused of murdering his aunt, Mrs. Rita O'Keefe, by cutting her throat. One clean single slash, severing the vessels. And then the repeated frenzied stabs at the half-naked body. Often, particularly with a murder of great brutality, the accused seemed almost pathetically inadequate in his ordinariness, his air of hapless incompetence at variance with the violent dedication of the deed. But there was nothing ordinary about this accused. It seemed to Venetia that, without turning, she could remember every detail of his face.

    He was dark, the eyes sombre under straight thick brows, the nose sharp and narrow, the mouth wide but thin-lipped, unyielding. The neck was long and very slender, giving the head the hieratic appearance of a bird of prey. He never fidgeted, indeed seldom moved, sitting very upright in the centre of the dock, flanked by the attendant officers. He seldom glanced at the jury in their box to his left. Only once, during the prosecution counsel's opening speech, had she seen him look up at the public gallery, his gaze ranging along the rows with a slight frown of disgust, as if deploring the quality of the audience he had attracted, before turning his eyes again to rest them on the judge. But there was nothing tautly anxious about his stillness. Instead he gave the impression of a man accustomed to public exposure, a young princeling at a public entertainment, to be endured rather than enjoyed, attended by his lords. It was the jury, the usual miscellany of men and women assembled to judge him, who looked to Venetia like an oddly assorted group of miscreants herded into the box for sentence. Four of them, in open-necked shirts and jumpers, looked as if they were about to wash the car. In contrast, the accused was carefully dressed in a navy-blue striped suit with a shirt so dazzling that it looked like an advertisement for a washing powder. The suit was well pressed but poorly cut, the over-padded shoulders giving the vigorous young body some of the gangling tenuity of adolescence. It was a good choice, the suit hinting at a mixture of self-respect and vulnerability which she was hoping to exploit.

    She had a respect, but no liking, for Rufus Matthews, who was prosecuting. The days of flamboyant eloquence in court were over and had in any case never been appropriate to the prosecution, but Rufus liked to win. He would make her fight for every point gained. Opening the prosecution case, he had recounted the facts with a brevity and an unemphatic clarity which left the impression that no eloquence was necessary to support a case so self-evidently true.

    Garry Ashe had lived with his maternal aunt, Mrs. Rita O'Keefe, at 397 Westway for a year and eight months before her death. His childhood had been spent in care, during which he had been placed with eight foster parents between periods in children's homes. He had lived in two London squats and had worked for a time in a bar in Ibiza before moving in with his aunt. The relationship between aunt and nephew could hardly be called normal. Mrs. O'Keefe was in the habit of entertaining a variety of men friends, and Garry was either compelled, or consented, to photograph his aunt and these various men engaged in the sexual act. Photographs which the accused had admitted taking would be shown in evidence.

    On the night of the murder, Friday, 12 January, Mrs. O'Keefe and Garry were seen together from six o'clock to nine in the Duke of Clarence public house in Cosgrove Gardens, about one and a half miles from Westway. There was a quarrel and Garry left shortly after nine, saying that he was going home. His aunt, who was drinking heavily, stayed on. At about ten-thirty the licensee refused to serve her any more and she was helped into a taxi by two of her friends. At that time she was drunk but by no means incapable. Her friends judged that she was able to get home on her own. The cab-driver deposited her at Number 397 and watched her enter through the side gate at about ten-forty-five.

    At ten minutes past midnight a call was made to the police by Garry Ashe from his aunt's house to say that he had returned from a walk to discover her body. When the police arrived at twelve-twenty they found Mrs. O'Keefe lying on a single divan in the front sitting-room, practically naked. Her throat had been cut and she had been slashed with a knife after death, a total of nine wounds. It was the opinion of the forensic pathologist who saw the body at twelve-forty that Mrs. O'Keefe had died very shortly after her return home. There was no evidence of a break-in, and nothing to suggest that she had been entertaining or expecting a visitor that night.

    A smear of blood, later identified as Mrs. O'Keefe's, had been found on the headpiece of the shower above the bath in the bathroom, and two spots of her blood on the stair carpet. A large kitchen knife had been discovered under the privet hedge of a front garden less than a hundred yards from 397 Westway. The knife, which had a distinctive triangular chip in the handle, had been identified both by the accused and by the cleaning woman as having come from the drawer in Mrs. O'Keefe's kitchen. It had been cleaned of all fingerprints.

    The defendant had told the police that he had not gone straight home from the public house, but had walked the streets behind Westway and down as far as Shepherd's Bush before returning after midnight to discover his aunt's body. The court would, however, hear evidence from the neighbour living next door that she had seen Garry Ashe leaving 397 Westway at eleven-fifteen on the night of the murder. It was the case for the Crown that Garry Ashe had, in fact, gone straight home from the Duke of Clarence public house, that he had waited for his aunt to return and that he had killed her with the kitchen knife, probably himself in a state of nakedness. He had then taken a shower, dressed and left the house at eleven-fifteen to walk the streets in an attempt to establish an alibi.

    Rufus Matthews's final words were almost perfunctory. If the jury were satisfied on the evidence put before them that Garry Ashe had murdered his aunt, it would be their duty to return a verdict of guilty. If, however, at the end of the case they were left with a reasonable doubt of his guilt, then the accused was entitled to be acquitted of the murder of Mrs. Rita O'Keefe.


    From the Trade Paperback edition.

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    Table of Contents

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    First Chapter

    CHAPTER ONE

    Murderers do not usually give their victims notice. This is one death which, however terrible that last second of appalled realization, comes mercifully unburdened with anticipatory terror. When, on the afternoon of Wednesday, 11 September, Venetia Aldridge stood up to cross-examine the prosecution's chief witness in the case of Regina v. Ashe, she had four weeks, four hours and fifty minutes left of life. After her death the many who had admired her and the few who had liked her, searching for a more personal response than the stock adjectives of horror and outrage, found themselves muttering that it would have pleased Venetia that her last case of murder had been tried at the Bailey, scene of her greatest triumphs, and in her favourite court.

    But there was truth in the inanity.

    Court Number One had laid its spell on her since she had first entered it as a pupil. She had always tried to discipline that part of her mind which she suspected could be seduced by tradition or history, yet she responded to this elegant wood-panelled theatre with an aesthetic satisfaction and a lifting of the spirit which was one of the keenest pleasures of her professional life. There was a rightness about the size and proportions, an appropriate dignity in the richly carved coat of arms above the dais, and the glittering seventeenth-century Sword of Justice suspended beneath it, an intriguing contrast between the witness box, canopied like a miniature pulpit, and the wide dock, in which the accused sat level-eyed with the judge. Like all places perfectly designed for their purpose with nothing wanting, nothing superfluous, it induced a sense of timeless calm, even the illusion that the passions of men were susceptible to order and control. Once from curiosity she had gone into the public gallery and had sat for a minute looking down at the empty court and it had seemed to her that only here, where the spectators sat close-packed, was the air knotted with decades of human terror, hope and despair. And now she was once more in the place where she belonged. She hadn't expected the case to be heard in the Old Bailey's most famous court or to be judged by a High Court Judge, but a previous trial had collapsed and the judge's sittings and court allocation had been reorganized. It was a happy omen. She had lost in Court One, but the memories of defeats there were not bitter. More often she had won.

    Today, as always in court, she reserved her gaze for the judge, the jury, the witnesses. She seldom conferred with her junior, spoke to Ashe's solicitor seated in front of her or kept the court waiting even momentarily while she searched in her papers for a note. No defending counsel went into court better prepared. And she rarely glanced at her client, and then, when possible, without too obviously turning her head towards the dock. But his silent presence dominated her mind as she knew it did the court. Garry Ashe, aged twenty-one years and three months, accused of murdering his aunt, Mrs. Rita O'Keefe, by cutting her throat. One clean single slash, severing the vessels. And then the repeated frenzied stabs at the half-naked body. Often, particularly with a murder of great brutality, the accused seemed almost pathetically inadequate in his ordinariness, his air of hapless incompetence at variance with the violent dedication of the deed. But there was nothing ordinary about this accused. It seemed to Venetia that, without turning, she could remember every detail of his face.

    He was dark, the eyes sombre under straight thick brows, the nose sharp and narrow, the mouth wide but thin-lipped, unyielding. The neck was long and very slender, giving the head the hieratic appearance of a bird of prey. He never fidgeted, indeed seldom moved, sitting very upright in the centre of the dock, flanked by the attendant officers. He seldom glanced at the jury in their box to his left. Only once, during the prosecution counsel's opening speech, had she seen him look up at the public gallery, his gaze ranging along the rows with a slight frown of disgust, as if deploring the quality of the audience he had attracted, before turning his eyes again to rest them on the judge. But there was nothing tautly anxious about his stillness. Instead he gave the impression of a man accustomed to public exposure, a young princeling at a public entertainment, to be endured rather than enjoyed, attended by his lords. It was the jury, the usual miscellany of men and women assembled to judge him, who looked to Venetia like an oddly assorted group of miscreants herded into the box for sentence. Four of them, in open-necked shirts and jumpers, looked as if they were about to wash the car. In contrast, the accused was carefully dressed in a navy-blue striped suit with a shirt so dazzling that it looked like an advertisement for a washing powder. The suit was well pressed but poorly cut, the over-padded shoulders giving the vigorous young body some of the gangling tenuity of adolescence. It was a good choice, the suit hinting at a mixture of self-respect and vulnerability which she was hoping to exploit.

    She had a respect, but no liking, for Rufus Matthews, who was prosecuting. The days of flamboyant eloquence in court were over and had in any case never been appropriate to the prosecution, but Rufus liked to win. He would make her fight for every point gained. Opening the prosecution case, he had recounted the facts with a brevity and an unemphatic clarity which left the impression that no eloquence was necessary to support a case so self-evidently true.

    Garry Ashe had lived with his maternal aunt, Mrs. Rita O'Keefe, at 397 Westway for a year and eight months before her death. His childhood had been spent in care, during which he had been placed with eight foster parents between periods in children's homes. He had lived in two London squats and had worked for a time in a bar in Ibiza before moving in with his aunt. The relationship between aunt and nephew could hardly be called normal. Mrs. O'Keefe was in the habit of entertaining a variety of men friends, and Garry was either compelled, or consented, to photograph his aunt and these various men engaged in the sexual act. Photographs which the accused had admitted taking would be shown in evidence.

    On the night of the murder, Friday, 12 January, Mrs. O'Keefe and Garry were seen together from six o'clock to nine in the Duke of Clarence public house in Cosgrove Gardens, about one and a half miles from Westway. There was a quarrel and Garry left shortly after nine, saying that he was going home. His aunt, who was drinking heavily, stayed on. At about ten-thirty the licensee refused to serve her any more and she was helped into a taxi by two of her friends. At that time she was drunk but by no means incapable. Her friends judged that she was able to get home on her own. The cab-driver deposited her at Number 397 and watched her enter through the side gate at about ten-forty-five.

    At ten minutes past midnight a call was made to the police by Garry Ashe from his aunt's house to say that he had returned from a walk to discover her body. When the police arrived at twelve-twenty they found Mrs. O'Keefe lying on a single divan in the front sitting-room, practically naked. Her throat had been cut and she had been slashed with a knife after death, a total of nine wounds. It was the opinion of the forensic pathologist who saw the body at twelve-forty that Mrs. O'Keefe had died very shortly after her return home. There was no evidence of a break-in, and nothing to suggest that she had been entertaining or expecting a visitor that night.

    A smear of blood, later identified as Mrs. O'Keefe's, had been found on the headpiece of the shower above the bath in the bathroom, and two spots of her blood on the stair carpet. A large kitchen knife had been discovered under the privet hedge of a front garden less than a hundred yards from 397 Westway. The knife, which had a distinctive triangular chip in the handle, had been identified both by the accused and by the cleaning woman as having come from the drawer in Mrs. O'Keefe's kitchen. It had been cleaned of all fingerprints.

    The defendant had told the police that he had not gone straight home from the public house, but had walked the streets behind Westway and down as far as Shepherd's Bush before returning after midnight to discover his aunt's body. The court would, however, hear evidence from the neighbour living next door that she had seen Garry Ashe leaving 397 Westway at eleven-fifteen on the night of the murder. It was the case for the Crown that Garry Ashe had, in fact, gone straight home from the Duke of Clarence public house, that he had waited for his aunt to return and that he had killed her with the kitchen knife, probably himself in a state of nakedness. He had then taken a shower, dressed and left the house at eleven-fifteen to walk the streets in an attempt to establish an alibi.

    Rufus Matthews's final words were almost perfunctory. If the jury were satisfied on the evidence put before them that Garry Ashe had murdered his aunt, it would be their duty to return a verdict of guilty. If, however, at the end of the case they were left with a reasonable doubt of his guilt, then the accused was entitled to be acquitted of the murder of Mrs. Rita O'Keefe.

    The cross-examination of Stephen Wright, landlord of the Duke of Clarence, on the third day of the trial had presented Venetia with little difficulty and she had expected none. He had entered the witness box with the swagger of a man determined to show that he wasn't intimidated by wigs and scarlet robes, and had taken the oath with a nonchalance which made only too plain his opinion of this archaic ritual. Venetia had met his slightly salacious smile with a long cool glance. The prosecution had called him to add weight to their case that relations between Ashe and his aunt had quickly descended into acrimony when they were in the pub together, and that Mrs. O'Keefe had been frightened of her nephew. But he had been an unconvincing and prejudiced witness and had done little to shake the evidence of the other pub witnesses that Ashe had, in fact, said little and had drunk less. "He used to sit very quiet," said Wright, seduced by hubris into folly and turning to confide in the jury. "Dangerous quiet, if you ask me. And he'd stare at her with that look he has. He didn't need drink to make him dangerous."

    Venetia had enjoyed her cross-examination of Stephen Wright and, by the time he was released, couldn't resist a glance of commiseration at Rufus as he rose to try to undo some of the harm. Both knew that more had been lost during the last few minutes than one witness's reliability. Every time a prosecution witness was discredited the whole case for the Crown became tainted with distrust. And she knew that she had had from the start one great advantage: there was no instinctive sympathy for the victim. Show the jury pictures of the violated body of a dead child, tender as a fledgeling, and some atavistic voice within always whispered, "Someone ought to pay for this." The need for vengeance, so easy to confuse with the imperatives of justice, always worked for the prosecution. The jury didn't want to convict the wrong man, but they did need to convict someone. The prosecution evidence was always weighted with the need to believe it true. But here those stark police photographs of the victim, the flabby pendulous belly and the spreading breasts, even the severed vessels, so horribly reminiscent of a pig's carcass hung on a butcher's hook, evoked disgust rather than pity. Her character had been effectively destroyed. It was seldom difficult in a murder case; the victim, after all, was not there to defend herself. Rita O'Keefe had been a drunken, unattractive, quarrelsome fifty-five-year-old with an insatiable appetite for gin and sex. Four of the jury were young, two only just of the qualifying age. The young were not indulgent towards age and ugliness. Their silent inner voices would be muttering a very different message: "She had it coming to her."

    And it was now, in the second week and seventh day of the trial, that they had reached what, for Venetia, was the critical cross-examination of a prosecution witness: Mrs. Dorothy Scully, neighbour of the victim, a widow aged sixty-nine, the woman who had told the police, and now the court, that she had seen Garry Ashe leaving Number 397 at eleven-fifteen on the night of the murder.

    Venetia had watched her during the examination-in-chief, noting her strengths, assessing her vulnerability. She knew what she needed to know about Mrs. Scully; she had made that her business. The woman was poor, but not desperately so, a widow managing on her pension. Westway had, after all, been relatively prosperous, a comfortable enclave of the respectable, reliable, law-abiding lower-middle class who owned their houses and took a pride in clean lace curtains and carefully tended front gardens, each a small triumph of individuality over the drab conformity. But their world was crashing down with their houses, rising in great choking clouds of ochre dust. Only a few houses were now left standing as the work on the road-widening went inexorably ahead. Even the painted slogans of protest on the boards which separated the vacant lots from the road were beginning to fade. Soon there would be nothing but tarmac and the ceaseless roar and screech of traffic thundering westward out of London. In time even memory would be powerless to conjure up what once had been. Mrs. Scully would be one of the last to leave. Her memories would be built on air. She had brought with her into the witness box her soon-to-be-obliterated past, her uncertain future, her respectability and her honesty. It was an inadequate armoury with which to confront one of the country's most formidable cross-examiners.

    Venetia saw that she had purchased no new coat for this court appearance. A new coat was a major extravagance; only the onset of a particularly cold winter, or the wearing out of the old coat, could justify that expenditure. But the hat was obviously bought for the occasion, a pale-blue felt with a small brim, adorned with a huge white flower, imposing a note of discordant frivolity above the serviceable tweed.

    She had taken the oath nervously, her voice almost inaudible. Twice during her evidence the judge had bent forward to ask her in his courteous old voice to speak up. She had, however, become more at ease as the examination proceeded. Rufus had tried to make it easy for her by occasionally repeating a question before she replied, but Venetia thought that his witness had found this more confusing than helpful. She guessed, too, that Mrs. Scully had disliked his over-loud, slightly hectoring upper-class voice and his habit of addressing his remarks to the air some few feet above the heads of the jury. Rufus had always been at his most effective when cross-examining a hostile witness. Mrs. Scully, old, pathetic, a little hard of hearing, brought out the bully in him. But she had been a good witness, answering simply and convincingly.

    She had spent the evening from seven o'clock having supper and then watching a video of 'The Sound of Music' with a friend, Mrs. Pierce, who lived five doors down the road. She didn't herself have a video recorder but her friend would hire a video each week, and usually invited her to spend the evening so that they could watch it together. She didn't normally leave the house at night but Mrs. Pierce lived so close that she didn't mind walking the short distance home and the road was well lit. She was certain of the time. When the film ended both she and her friend had said how much later it was than either of them had expected. The clock on her friend's mantelpiece had shown ten minutes past eleven and she had looked at her own watch because of her surprise that the time had passed so quickly. She had known Garry Ashe since he had come to live with his aunt. She had no doubt that it was he whom she had seen leaving Number 397. He had walked swiftly down the short garden path and had turned left on Westway, walking quickly away from her. She had stood watching him until he was out of sight, surprised that he was leaving the house so late. She had then let herself into Number 396. She couldn't remember whether there were any lights showing from the house next door. She rather thought that it had been in darkness.

    It was towards the end of Rufus's examination-in-chief that the note was passed to Venetia. Ashe must have signalled to his solicitor, who went over to the dock. The note was handed from him to Venetia. It was written in a black ballpoint in a firm, small, upright hand. There was nothing impulsive or scrawled about this message. "Ask her what spectacles she was wearing on the night of the murder."

    Venetia was careful not to look at the dock. It was, she knew, one of those moments of decision which could decide the outcome of the trial. And it went straight to that first rule of cross-examination learned when she was a pupil: never ask a question unless you already know the answer. She had five seconds to decide before she must rise to cross-examine. If she asked this question and the answer was wrong, Ashe would go down. But she was confident of two things. The first was that she did already know the answer; Ashe would not have written that note unless he was certain. The second was as vital. She had, if at all possible, to discredit Mrs. Scully. The woman's evidence, given with such obvious honesty, such certainty, had been damning.

    She slipped the note under her papers as if it were an unimportant matter which she could attend to at leisure and took her time getting to her feet.

    "Can you hear me clearly, Mrs. Scully?"

    The woman nodded and whispered "Yes." Venetia smiled at her briefly. It was enough. The question, the encouraging smile, the warmth of the voice said it all: I'm a woman. We're on the same side. These pompous men don't frighten us. You've nothing to fear from me.

    Venetia went over the evidence quietly so that when she was ready to move in for the kill the victim was happily compliant. The rows she had heard from next door, one male voice, the other, strongly Irish, recognizably that of Mrs. O'Keefe. Mrs. Scully had thought it had been the same male voice each time. But Mrs. O'Keefe was always entertaining her men friends. Perhaps a more accurate word would be "clients." Could she be certain that the voice was Garry's? Mrs. Scully could not be sure. The suggestion was skilfully planted that a natural animus against the aunt could have spilled over to include the nephew. They were not the kind of neighbours Mrs. Scully was used to.

    "We come now, Mrs. Scully, to your identification of the defendant as the young man you saw leaving Number 397 on the night of the murder. Did you often see Garry leaving the house by the front door?"

    "No, he usually used the back door and the garden gate because of his motorbike."

    "So you would see him leaving, wheeling his bike out by the garden gate?"

    "Sometimes. I could see from my bedroom window at the back."

    "And as he kept his motorcycle in the garden, then that would be the natural way for him to leave?"

    "I suppose so."

    "Did you sometimes see him leaving by the back gate even when he hadn't the bike with him?"

    "Once or twice, I suppose."

    "Once or twice in all, or once or twice a week? Don't worry if you can't be absolutely precise. It isn't, after all, something you'd make a note of."

    "I suppose I saw him leaving by the back door about two or three times a week. Sometimes with his bike, sometimes not."

    "How often did you see him leaving by the front door?"

    "I can't remember. Once when he had a taxi call for him. He left by the front door then."

    "As one would expect. But did you often see him use the front door? You see, what I'm trying to find out here, because I think it will help the jury, is whether Garry normally used the front door or the back door when he left the house."

    "I think they mostly used the back door, both of them."

    "I see. They mostly used the back door." Then, still quietly, still in the same interested, sympathetic voice: "The spectacles you are wearing today, Mrs. Scully, are they new?"

    The woman put up her hands to the frames as if uncertain that she was still wearing them. "Quite new. I got them on my birthday."

    "Which was?"

    "February 16th. That's how I remember."

    "And you are quite sure about the date?"

    "Oh yes." She turned to the judge as if anxious to explain. "I was going to have tea with my sister and I went into the shop to collect them on the way. I wanted to know what she thought about the new frames."

    "And you are quite sure of the date, February 16th--five weeks after the murder of Mrs. O'Keefe?"

    "Yes, quite sure."

    "Did your sister think that the new glasses suited you?"

    "She thought they were a bit fancy, but I wanted a change. You get tired of the same old frames. I thought I'd try something different."

    And now the dangerous question, but Venetia knew what the answer would be. Women who are struggling on a low income don't pay for an eye test unnecessarily or see their spectacles as a fashion accessory.

    She asked: "Is that why you changed the spectacles, Mrs. Scully? Because you wanted to try different frames?"

    "No, it wasn't. I couldn't see properly with the old spectacles. That's why I went to the oculist."

    "What couldn't you see specifically?"

    "Well, the television really. It was getting so that I couldn't see the faces."

    "Where do you watch the television, Mrs. Scully?"

    "In the front sitting-room."

    "Which is the same size as the one next door?"

    "It must be. The houses are all alike."

    "Not a large room, then. The jury have seen photographs of Mrs. O'Keefe's front room. About twelve feet square, would you say?"

    "Yes, I suppose so. About that."

    "And how far do you sit from the screen?"

    The first sign of slight distress, an anxious look at the judge, then she said: "Well, I sit by the gas fire, and the telly's in the opposite corner, by the door."

    "It's never comfortable to have the screen too close, is it? But let's see if we can be more definite." She looked at the judge, "If I may, my Lord," and received his confirming nod. Then she leaned forward to Ashe's solicitor, Neville Saunders. "If I ask this gentleman to move slowly towards his Lordship, will you tell me when the distance between them is roughly the same as the distance between you and the set?"

    Neville Saunders, a little surprised but setting his features into the gravity appropriate to taking a more active part in the proceedings, got up from his seat and began his slow game of grandmother's footsteps. When he was ten feet from the bench, Mrs. Scully nodded. "About there."

    "Ten feet or a little less."

    She turned again to the witness. "Mrs. Scully, I know that you are an honest witness. You are trying to tell the truth to help the court and you know how important that truth is. The freedom, the whole future of a young life depends on it. You have told the court that you couldn't comfortably see your television set at ten feet. You have stated on oath that you recognized the defendant at twenty feet on a dark night and by the light of overhead street lighting. Can you be absolutely sure that you weren't mistaken? Can you be confident that it wasn't some other young man leaving the house that night, someone of roughly the same age and the same height? Take your time, Mrs. Scully. Think back. There's no hurry."

    There were only eight words the witness needed to speak: "It was Garry Ashe. I saw him plainly." A professional criminal would have said them, would have known that in cross-examination you stick to your story doggedly, without alteration, without embellishment. But professional criminals know the system; Mrs. Scully was under the disadvantage of honesty, of nervousness, of the wish to please. There was a silence, then she said: "I thought it was Garry."

    To leave it there or to go one step further? This was always the danger in cross-examination. Venetia said: "Because it was his house, he lived there. You would expect it to be Garry. But could you really see plainly, Mrs. Scully? Can you be sure?"

    The woman stared at her. At last she said: "I suppose it could have been someone like him. But I thought at the time it was Garry."

    "You thought at the time it was Garry, but it could have been someone like him. Precisely. It was a natural mistake, Mrs. Scully, but I suggest to you that it was a mistake. Thank you."

    Rufus, of course, could not leave it like that. Entitled to re-examine on a point requiring clarification, he got portentously to his feet, hitched up his gown and surveyed the air above the witness box with the puzzled frown of a man expecting a change in the weather. Mrs. Scully looked at him with the anxiety of a guilty child who knows that she has disappointed the grown-ups. Rufus attempted with some success to modify his tone.

    "Mrs. Scully, I am sorry to keep you but there is one point on which I think that the jury may be somewhat confused. During your examination-in-chief you said that you had no doubt that it was Garry Ashe whom you saw leaving his aunt's house at a quarter past eleven on the night of the murder. However, during cross-examination by my learned friend you have said--and I quote--"I suppose it could have been someone like him. But I thought at the time it was Garry." Now, I'm sure you will realize that these two statements can't both be right. The jury may find it difficult to understand what precisely it is you are saying. I confess I find myself somewhat confused. So I have just the one question. The man you saw leaving Number 397 that night, who do you believe he was?"

    And now she was anxious only to be let out of the witness box, no longer to feel that she was being pulled between two people who both wanted a clear answer from her, but not the same answer. She looked at the judge, as if hoping that he would answer for her, or at least help her to a decision. The court waited. Then the answer came and it came with the desperation of truth.

    "I believe that it was Garry Ashe."

    Venetia knew that Rufus had little choice but to call his next witness, Mrs. Rose Pierce, to confirm the time at which Mrs. Scully had left her house. Time was of the essence. If Mrs. O'Keefe had been killed immediately or shortly after arriving home from the pub, Ashe would have had thirty minutes in which to kill, shower, dress and set out on his walk.

    Mrs. Pierce, plump, red-cheeked, bright-eyed and padded in a black woollen coat topped with a flat hat, fitted comfortably into the witness box like Mrs. Noah ensconced in the cabin of her ark. No doubt, thought Venetia, there were places which Mrs. Pierce might find intimidating but the premier court at the Old Bailey was not among them. She gave her profession as retired children's nurse, "A nanny, my Lord," and gave the impression that she was as capable of dealing with the adult nonsenses of the male sex as she had been with their childhood delinquencies. Even Rufus, facing her, seemed to be visited by uncomfortable memories of nursery discipline. His examination was brief and her answers were confident. Mrs. Scully had left her house just before Mrs. Pierce's carriage clock, given to her by one of her employers, had chimed quarter past eleven.

    Venetia rose at once to ask her single question.

    "Mrs. Pierce, can you remember whether Mrs. Scully complained that she had difficulty in seeing the video that evening?"

    Mrs. Pierce was surprised into unexpected loquacity.

    "Funny you should ask that, learned counsel madam. Dorothy complained at the time that the picture wasn't clear. Mind you, that was when she had her old specs. She'd been saying for some time that she ought to have her eyes tested and I told her the sooner the better and we had a chat over whether she'd stick to the same frames or try something different. Try something new, I told her. Be a devil. You only live once. Well, she got the new specs on her birthday and she's had no trouble since."

    Venetia thanked her and sat down. She felt a little sorry for Rufus. The night of the murder could so easily have been the one on which Mrs. Scully had made no complaint of poor sight. But only the most naïve believed that luck played no part in the criminal-justice system.

    On the next day, Thursday, 12 September, Venetia stood up to open the case for the defence. She had already effectively made that case in her cross-examination. Now, by the early afternoon, she had only one witness left to call: the accused.

    She knew that she had to put Ashe in the box. He would have insisted. She had recognized early in their professional relationship the vanity, the mixture of conceit and bravado, which might even now undo all the good achieved by her cross-examination of the Crown witnesses. He wasn't going to be cheated out of this final public performance. All those hours of sitting patiently in the dock were for him a prelude to the moment when at last he could answer for himself and the case would be won or lost. She knew him well enough to be sure that what he had most hated was the knowledge that he had to sit while others spoke, others argued their case. He was the most important person in that courtroom. It was for him that a High Court judge in his scarlet robe sat to the right of the carved royal arms, for him that twelve men and women sat there listening patiently for hour after hour, for him that the distinguished members of the Bar in their wigs and gowns questioned, cross-questioned and argued. Venetia knew that it was easy for the accused to feel that he was merely the ineffectual object of others' concerns, that the system had taken him over, was using him, that he was on display so that others could demonstrate their cleverness, their expertise. Now he would have his chance. She knew that it was a risk; if the conceit, the bravado proved stronger than his control then they were in trouble.

    Within minutes of her examination-in-chief she knew that she needn't have worried. His performance--and she had no doubt that it was that--was beautifully judged. He was, of course, prepared for her first question, but she had not been prepared for his answer.

    "Garry, did you love your aunt?"

    A short pause, and then: "I was very fond of her, and I was sorry for her. I don't think I know what people mean by love."

    They were the first words he had spoken in court except for that plea of not guilty spoken in a firm low voice. The court was absolutely silent. The words fell on the quiet expectant air. Venetia could sense the reaction of the jury. Of course he didn't know, how could he? A boy who had never known his father, had been thrown out by his mother before he was eight, been taken into care, shunted from foster parent to foster parent, transferred from one children's home to another, seen as a nuisance from the moment he was born. He had never known tenderness, security or disinterested affection. How could he know the meaning of love?

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    Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
    • Anonymous

      Posted February 28, 2001

      James shows there's 'justice for all'!

      P.D. James purists may argue that ¿Devices and Desires¿ is her best work to date, but ¿A Certain Justice¿ is certainly a close second! Granted, while James seems to devote less time to her leading man, Adam Dalgliesh, she nevertheless succeeds in making a more complete story--concentrating more on other characters and events (almost as if she¿s saying ¿you already know enough about Adam¿!). Still, Commander Dalgliesh is in command and it is through his brilliance that the case is solved (or in this case, ¿cases¿!). Basically, Venetia Aldridge, a brilliant, up-and-coming criminal lawyer is found murdered (there can be no other explanation). As Scotland Yard becomes more involved (after all, it is a murder investigation and the victim is quite prominent in London legal circles), facts begin to emerge that picture a not-so-ordinary past. Venetia is no angel (not yet, anyway!)--there are suspects a-plenty and the motives run rampant, from her cleaning lady to colleagues in and out of court and to her own family members. She has a past that certainly has cut some crucial corners. She is also a woman with an attitude--an attitude that seemed not to care about making enemies. she is also the mother of a teenaged daughter, and their relationship, too, has been a bit tumultuous--dicey at best. Venetia is found stabbed to death at her desk, and a barrister¿s wig placed, askew, on her head. Her body is soaked in blood. A convenient suspect is hurriedly identified (a sociopath whom she¿d successfully defended in a murder trial a few years back!) but, alas, he comes up with an alibi and Dalgliesh must look to others, especially some of her jealous colleagues, for his culprit. James¿ plot is, indeed, convoluted and for the casual reader may be hard to follow. After all, she hasn¿t been labeled ¿queen of crime¿ for nothing. Trying to follow the plot is more like trying to find the path in a maze, but that is also probably one of the main attractions for a James novel: it¿s not simple. At the same time, she painstakingly develops her characters, who, simply, are more than one dimensional. While Venetia, on the surface, reflects an organized, planned concept of justice and law and order, James shows us another side--one of justice running amok, of cruelty in the name of the law, and of fair play being something that seems not to exist. And this road to certain justice is one in a state of disrepair, confusion, and blind leads. It is not without its rewards, however, and by the chilling final-chapters¿ climax, it is, once again, a jury victory for James!.

      2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted January 4, 2012

      James-one of the best

      A British crime novel by a master. Set in London with a small set of well- characterized suspects. The writing is smooth and seamless, and the plot intriguing enough to bear rereading. For fans of Ruth Rendell, Elizabeth George or Margery Allingham.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted September 23, 2002

      CSI done proper...

      Fix a nice cup of tea, a chocolate eclair, and settle in for a thrilling crime scene investigation! Interesting characters, an intense plot, and just enough twists to keep you guessing thoughout. Highly recommended!

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted January 16, 2013

      Wellwritten and absorbing

      AS GOOD AS USUAL BY THIS AUTHOR WORTH READING SEVERAL TIMES

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    • Anonymous

      Posted April 18, 2000

      A DIFFERENT KIND OF MYSTERY

      THIS IS A DIFFERENT KIND OF MYSTERY!!!A VERY SATISFYING YET QUESTIONABLE ENDING...THE TITLE GIVES A CERTAIN PICTURE WHAT KIND OF JUSTICE THE DOOMED VENETIA ALDRIDGE WAS TO GET...A CERTAIN JUSTICE. READ IT AND YOU MIGHT THINK...THIS MIGHT BE THE FIRST TIME IN A MYSTERY NOVEL THAT THIS HAS HAPPENED.!!!!!!!!

      0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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