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The Lighthouse (Adam Dalgliesh Series #13)

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"Combe Island off the Cornish coast of England has a bloodstained history of piracy and cruelty. Owned for centuries by the same family, it now serves as a place where over-stressed men and women in positions of high authority can come to find serenity in conditions of guaranteed security. But when one of its distinguished visitors is found hanging from Combe's famous lighthouse, an apparent murder victim, the peace of the island is shattered." The situation is awkward, demanding exceptional skill and discretion on the part of investigators.
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The Lighthouse (Adam Dalgliesh Series #13)

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Overview

"Combe Island off the Cornish coast of England has a bloodstained history of piracy and cruelty. Owned for centuries by the same family, it now serves as a place where over-stressed men and women in positions of high authority can come to find serenity in conditions of guaranteed security. But when one of its distinguished visitors is found hanging from Combe's famous lighthouse, an apparent murder victim, the peace of the island is shattered." The situation is awkward, demanding exceptional skill and discretion on the part of investigators. Commander Adam Dalgliesh, well known and admired for exactly these qualities, is called in to solve the case. Unfortunately, it is a difficult time for the Commander and his team. Dalgliesh himself is distracted, uncertain and deeply worried about his future with Emma Lavenham, the woman he loves; Detective Inspector Kate Miskin is coping with tenacious emotional problems of her own; the ambitious Sergeant Francis Benton-Smith is not happy about having a woman as his superior. Moreover, the team has scarcely begun to unravel the motives of the various suspects before a second brutal killing occurs. Then, as if to challenge them to the utmost, a new and unexpected - and deadly - threat suddenly confronts Dalgliesh personally, leaving Miskin and Benton-Smith to carry on alone in a race against time.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
P. D. James's 13th mystery featuring Scotland Yard's Commander Adam Dalgliesh proves to be the master detective's most unlucky case to date; while investigating the homicide of a world-renowned author on a privately owned island of the Cornish coast, Dalgliesh is confronted with something even more terrifying than the brutal murder…

Combe Island, once a strategic base for slave-trading pirates, now serves as an inconspicuous refuge for some the most influential people in the world: a starkly beautiful place where scientists, politicians, diplomats, and other distinguished guests can relax in privacy and total security. But when Nathan Oliver, considered one of the world's greatest novelists, is found hanging from Combe Island's lighthouse, Dalgliesh -- known for his discretion and his ability to quickly solving sensitive cases -- is called to the island to get to the bottom of the heinous murder.

The case, however, is complicated from the very start, with personal issues involving Dalgliesh's depleted squad: Detective Inspector Kate Miskin and Sergeant Francis Benton-Smith must somehow work through their mutual antagonism, and Dalgliesh must make some life-altering decisions concerning Emma Lavenham, his part-time lover...

As thrilling and delightfully complicated as any Agatha Christie or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle mystery, James's The Lighthouse will keep readers hopelessly speculating about the identity of the killer until the very end. With a cast of diverse and brilliantly fleshed out island inhabitants/suspects, James's intricate and superbly structured plotlines (which include some absolute bombshells regarding Dalgliesh!) make The Lighthouse arguably the best Adam Dalgliesh mystery to date -- a murderous masterwork from the Queen of Crime. Paul Goat Allen

Janet Maslin
The Lighthouse is too rooted in genre conventions to count originality as its strong suit. But it has deviousness to burn, and it also offers other enticements. It's the kind of book that boasts a wryly humorous Scrabble scene, not to mention a Scrabble-lover's vocabulary: Ms. James makes ready use of words like abseil, belay, symphysis and meiosis. It's a book that serves up figurative red herring as well as melon balls in orange sauce. Not a menu goes unmentioned … it is a sturdy installment in a well-honed series, which is a concept that even its characters understand.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
If-as some reviewers have speculated-The Lighthouse marks the end of James's 13-book mystery series about policeman/poet Adam Dalgliesh, at least in this artful and gripping audio version the commander is going out in style. Gifted veteran actor Keating rises above some familiar plot elements and obvious padding to create a convincing atmosphere set on an isolated private island where burnt-out leaders in the fields of business, politics and art go to rest and recuperate. Keating delineates James's many characters sharply and smoothly-from the top men in the police and foreign office who initiate the investigation through the three very different detectives who show up to probe the mysterious death of a noted and much-disliked novelist and find themselves in the middle of another murder. Dalgliesh is even calmer than usual, much of his mind still back in London with his new love interest. Insp. Kate Miskin is also preoccupied by the attentions of a former colleague, and Sgt. Francis Benton-Smith-his eye on the prize of promotion-sees Miskin as a hurdle in the road to success. Dedicated James fans should find this pleasant listening. Simultaneous release with the Knopf hardcover (Reviews, Oct. 17). (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Forbes Magazine
Commander Adam Dalgliesh is faced with a sensitive seaside case that concerns a noted novelist found hanging from a lighthouse on exclusive Combe Island, a place owned by a trust to which high-powered people come to unwind. Dalgliesh and two colleagues, rather than local police, are brought in to investigate because Combe Island is to be the setting for an upcoming international summit meeting. Before the case is closed, Dalgliesh comes down with SARS and stories surface of three German soldiers killed there during WWII, as well as of the simultaneous probable murder of an island inhabitant. (10 Apr 2006)
—Steve Forbes
Library Journal
A small group is staying at a manor house on a small Cornish island. One member is found dead, obviously murdered. The cast of characters includes a clergyman who has lost his faith, a doctor who has lost his professional self-confidence, diplomats, the murdered man's daughter, and her fianc . Scotland Yard commander Adam Dalgliesh and his team are called in to investigate. The dead man was brilliant, manipulative, and abusive, and the island's inhabitants are quirky. Inspector Kate Miskin takes over the investigation when Adam falls ill, but high fever or not, it is Adam who identifies the murderer. Like all of James's works, the book is well written and enjoyable, but there are many oddities, and too much time is devoted to flashbacks. Despite the extensive back stories, the characters seem flat, like figures being moved around a game board. The crime is solved by what appears to be divine inspiration, not the collection of evidence. Charles Keating gives a satisfactory reading, and despite its many flaws, The Lighthouse is a pleasant listening experience. Although far from James's best, this title should be in high demand. Recommended for all collections.-I. Pour-El, Des Moines Area Community Coll., Boone, IA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The doyenne of British mystery celebrates her 85th birthday by packing off Adam Dalgliesh and two members of his Metropolitan Murder Squad to investigate the violent death of a famous novelist on a remote island off the Cornish coast. For 75 years, Combe Island has been administered by a charitable trust as a restorative refuge for distinguished citizens. Now its lighthouse seems destined for notoriety as the place where novelist Nathan Oliver was launched into eternity at the end of a rope. In the hope of keeping a lid on the unsavory publicity, Dalgliesh, DI Kate Miskin and Sgt. Francis Benton-Smith are dispatched from the City. They find the island's staff and its handful of other visitors, including Oliver's daughter Miranda and his copyeditor Dennis Tremlett, shocked but hardly grief-stricken. Well-hated Oliver's murder (or was it a suicide or a bizarre accident someone wanted to look like murder?) inevitably opens the doors to secrets long locked away. James doesn't stint on the old-fashioned complications of mechanics and motives. But her most telling details are the quietest-a police record, a lost vial of blood, a tag from Christopher Marlowe, a telltale cough-each of which will take its place in the resolution. Although the story is briefer than James's recent double-deckers (The Murder Room, 2003, etc.), readers will still revel in her matchless fullness of characterization. A stay on Combe Island really is tonic. First printing of 300,000
From the Publisher
“With her trademark blend of subtle characterization, vivid sense of place and deceptively simple plot, James pulls off another triumph. A beautifully written page-turner from the queen of the genre.”
Toronto Sun

“An elegant and perceptive writer – rich drifts of prose pile up on the page, descriptive passages are Dickensian in length, ornament and power. . . James’s many fans will relish The Lighthouse, for all its poise and narrative familiarity.”
The Globe and Mail

“James’s gifts animate and transform the armature into something exceptional. Her disciplined conventions, her observation of social and class niceties, renew the traditional Franco-British drama of domestic crime. She is a very superior writer of detection.”
Times Literary Supplement

“James has proven that she deserves her reputation as our leading ‘literary’ crime writer. The Lighthouse confirms that she is also the most enjoyable.”
Daily Express

Praise for P.D. James:
"A first-rate writer without any qualifying genre tag."
Newsweek

"[James] ought never to be confused with such practitioners of the murder-in-the-vicarage genre as Agatha Christie. She is subtler, more sophisticated, much more adept at creating character and her social conservatism gives her a much darker view of human nature."
—Martin Levin, The Globe and Mail

"James’s novels are an escape like no other. . . . Masterful writing."
The Vancouver Sun

"She writes like an angel. Every character is closely drawn. Her atmosphere is unerringly, chillingly convincing. And she manages all this without for a moment slowing down the drive and tension of an exciting mystery."
The Times (UK)

"[James] suffuses The Murder Room with an intelligence and a perceptivity of human nature that seems casually placed. But that’s part of her genius. A grand design is there, but not readily apparent. Dalgliesh is one of the smartest, gentlest and most restrained cops to ever adorn a page. Moreover, every character, even minor characters, come across as fully realized.
Winnipeg Free Press

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307275738
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/10/2006
  • Series: Adam Dalgliesh Series , #13
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 184,768
  • Product dimensions: 5.14 (w) x 7.96 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Meet the Author

P. D. James

P. D. James is the author of 18 books, most of which have been filmed for television. Before her retirement in 1979, she served in the forensics and criminal justice departments of Great Britain’s Home Office, and she has been a magistrate and a governor of the BBC. The recipient of many prizes and honours, she was created Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991. In 2000 she celebrated her 80th birthday and published her autobiography, Time to Be in Earnest.

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

    The Lighthouse


    By P. D. James

    Random House

    P. D. James
    All right reserved.

    ISBN: 0739323334


    Chapter One

    1

    Commander Adam Dalgliesh was not unused to being urgently summoned to non-scheduled meetings with unspecified people at inconvenient times, but usually with one purpose in common: he could be confident that somewhere there lay a dead body awaiting his attention. There were other urgent calls, other meetings, sometimes at the highest level. Dalgliesh, as a permanent ADC to the Commissioner, had a number of functions which, as they grew in number and importance, had become so ill-defined that most of his colleagues had given up trying to define them. But this meeting, called in Assistant Commissioner Harkness's office on the seventh floor of New Scotland Yard at ten-fifty-five on the morning of Saturday, 23 October, had, from his first entry into the room, the unmistakable presaging of murder. This had nothing to do with a certain serious tension on the faces turned towards him; a departmental debacle would have caused greater concern. It was rather that unnatural death always provoked a peculiar unease, an uncomfortable realisation that there were still some things that might not be susceptible to bureaucratic control.

    There were only three men awaiting him and Dalgliesh was surprised to see Alexander Conistone of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He liked Conistone, who was one of the few eccentrics remaining in an increasingly conformist and politicised service. Conistone had acquired a reputation for crisis management. This was partly founded on his belief that there was no emergency that was not amenable to precedent or departmental regulations, but when these orthodoxies failed, he could reveal a dangerous capacity for imaginative initiatives which, by any bureaucratic logic, deserved to end in disaster but never did. Dalgliesh, for whom few of the labyrinths of Westminster bureaucracy were wholly unfamiliar, had earlier decided that this dichotomy of character was inherited. Generations of Conistones had been soldiers. The foreign fields of Britain's imperialis- tic past were enriched by the bodies of unmemorialised victims of previous Conistones' crises management. Even Conistone's eccen- tric appearance reflected a personal ambiguity. Alone among his colleagues, he dressed with the careful pinstriped conformity of a civil servant of the Thirties while, with his strong bony face, mottled cheeks and hair with the resilient waywardness of straw, he looked like a farmer.

    He was seated next to Dalgliesh opposite one of the wide windows. Having sat through the first ten minutes of the present meeting with an unusual economy of words, he sat, his chair a little tilted, complacently surveying the panorama of towers and spires, lit by a transitory unseasonable morning sun. Of the four men in the room--Conistone, Adam Dalgliesh, Assistant Commissioner Harkness and a fresh-faced boy from MI5 who had been introduced as Colin Reeves--Conistone, the one most concerned with the matter in hand, had so far said the least while Reeves, preoccupied with the effort of remembering what was being said without the humiliating expedient of being seen to take notes, hadn't yet spoken. Now Conistone stirred himself for a summing up.

    "Murder would be the most embarrassing for us, suicide hardly less so in the circumstances. Accidental death we could probably live with. Given the victim, there's bound to be publicity whichever it is, but it should be manageable unless this is murder. The problem is that we haven't much time. No date has been fixed yet, but the PM would like to arrange this top-secret international get-together in early January. A good time. Parliament not sitting, nothing much happens just after Christmas, nothing is expected to happen. The PM seems to have set his mind on Combe. So you'll take on the case, Adam? Good."

    Before Dalgliesh could reply, Harkness broke in, "The security rating, if it comes off, couldn't be higher."

    Dalgliesh thought, And even if you're in the know, which I doubt, you have no intention of telling me who will be meeting at this top-secret conference, or why. Security was always on a need-to-know basis. He could make his guesses, but had no particular curiosity. On the other hand, he was being asked to investigate a violent death and there were things he needed to be told.

    Before Colin Reeves had time to realise that this was his cue to intervene, Conistone said, "All that will be taken care of, of course. We're not expecting problems. There was a similar situation some years ago -- before your time, Harkness -- when a VIP politician thought he'd like a respite from his protection officer and booked two weeks on Combe. The visitor stood the silence and solitude for two days before realising that his life was meaningless without his red boxes. I should have thought that that was the message Combe was established to convey, but he didn't get it. No, I don't think we'll be worrying our friends south of the Thames."

    Well, that, at least, was a relief. To have the security services involved was always a complication. Dalgliesh reflected that the secret service, like the monarchy, in yielding up its mystique in response to public enthusiasm for greater openness, seemed to have lost some of that half-ecclesiastical patina of authority bestowed on those who dealt in esoteric mysteries. Today its head was known by name and pictured in the press, the previous head had actually written her autobiography, and its headquarters, an eccentric oriental-looking monument to modernity which dominated its stretch of the south bank of the Thames, seemed designed to attract rather than repel curiosity. To surrender mystique had its disadvantages; an organisation came to be regarded like any other bureaucracy, staffed by the same fallible human beings and liable to the same cock-ups. But he expected no problems with the secret service. The fact that MI5 was represented at middle-grade level suggested that this single death on an offshore island was among the least of their present concerns.

    He said, "I can't go inadequately briefed. You've given me nothing except who's dead, where he died and apparently how. Tell me about the island. Where exactly is it?"

    Harkness was in one of his more difficult moods, his ill humour imperfectly concealed by self-importance and a tendency to verbosity. The large map on the table was a little crooked. Frowning, he aligned it more accurately with the edge of the table, pushed it towards Dalgliesh and stabbed it with his forefinger.

    "It's here. Combe Island. Off the coast of Cornwall, about twenty miles south-west of Lundy Island and roughly twelve miles from the mainland, Pentworthy in this case. Newquay is the nearest large town." He looked over at Conistone. "You'd better carry on. It's more your baby than ours."

    Conistone spoke directly to Dalgliesh. "I'll waste a little time on the history. It explains Combe and if you don't know it you may start under a disadvantage. The island was owned for over four hundred years by the Holcombe family, who acquired it in the sixteenth century, although no one seems clear exactly how. Probably a Holcombe rowed out with a few armed retainers, hoisted his personal standard and took it over. There can't have been much competition. The title was later ratified by Henry the Eighth once he'd got rid of the Mediterranean pirates who'd established it as a base for their slave-trading raids along the Devon and Cornish coasts. After that Combe lay more or less neglected until the eighteenth century, when the family began to take an interest in it, and visited occasionally to look at the bird-life or spend the day picnicking. Then a Gerald Holcombe, born in the late eighteen hundreds, decided to use the island for family holidays. He restored the cottages and, in 1912, built a house and additional accommodation for the staff. The family went there every summer in those heady days before the First World War. The war changed everything. The two elder sons were killed, one in France, the other at Gallipoli. The Holcombes are the kind of family who die in wars, not make money from them. That left only the youngest, Henry, who was consumptive and unfit for military service. Apparently, after the death of his brothers he was oppressed by a sense of general unworthiness and had no particular wish to inherit. The money hadn't come from land but from fortunate investments, and by the late Twenties they had more or less dried up. So in 1930 he set up a charitable trust with what was left, found some wealthy supporters and handed over the island and the property. His idea was that it should be used as a place of rest and seclusion for men in positions of responsibility who needed to get away from the rigours of their professional lives."

    Now, for the first time, he bent down to open his briefcase and took out a file with a security marking. Rummaging among the documents, he brought out a single sheet of paper. "I've got the exact wording here. It makes Henry Holcombe's intentions clear. For men who undertake the dangerous and arduous business of exercising high responsibility in the service of the Crown and of their country, whether in the armed forces, politics, science, industry or the arts, and who require a restorative period of solitude, silence and peace. Engagingly typical of its age, isn't it? No mention of women, of course. This was 1930, remember. However, the accepted convention is held to apply, that the word 'men' embraces women. They take a maximum of five visitors, whom they accommodate at their choice either in the main house or in one of the stone cottages. Basically what Combe Island offers is peace and security. In the last few decades the latter has become probably the more important. People who want time to think can go there without their protection officers in the knowledge that they will be safe and completely undisturbed. There's a helicopter pad for bringing them in, and the small harbour is the only possible landing place by sea. No casual visitors are ever allowed and even mobile phones are forbidden -- they wouldn't get a signal there anyway. They keep a very low profile. People who go there are generally on personal recommendation, either from a Trustee or from a previous or regular visitor. You can see its advantage for the PM's purpose."

    Reeves blurted out, "What's wrong with Chequers?"

    The others turned on him the brightly interested gaze of adults prepared to humour a precocious child.

    Conistone said, "Nothing. An agreeable house with, I understand, every comfort. But guests who are invited to Chequers tend to get noticed. Isn't that the purpose of their going there?"

    Dalgliesh asked, "How did Downing Street get to know about the island?"

    Conistone slid the paper back into his file. "Through one of the PM's newly ennobled chums. He went to Combe to recover from the dangerous and arduous responsibility of adding one more grocery chain to his empire and another billion to his personal fortune."

    "There are some permanent staff, presumably. Or do the VIPs do their own washing up?"

    "There's the secretary, Rupert Maycroft, previously a solicitor in Warnborough. We've had to confide in him and, of course, inform the Trustees that Number Ten would be grateful if some important visitors could be accommodated in early January. At present it's all very tentative, but we've asked him to make no bookings after this month. There are the usual staff--boatman, housekeeper, cook. We know something about all of them. One or two of the previous visitors have been important enough to warrant security checks. It's all been done very discreetly. There's a resident physician, Dr. Guy Staveley, and his wife, although I gather she's more off than on the island. Can't stand the boredom apparently. Staveley's a refugee from a London general practice. Apparently he made a wrong diagnosis and a child died, so he's got himself a job where the worst that can happen is someone falling off a cliff, and he can't be blamed for that."

    Harkness said, "Only one resident has a criminal conviction, the boatman Jago Tamlyn in 1998 for GBH. I gather there were mitigating circumstances but it must have been a serious attack. He got twelve months. He's been in no trouble since."

    Dalgliesh asked, "When did the current visitors arrive?"

    "All five in the last week. The writer Nathan Oliver, together with his daughter Miranda and copy-editor Dennis Tremlett, came on Monday. A retired German diplomat, Dr. Raimund Speidel, ex-Ambassador to Beijing, came by private yacht from France on Wednesday, and Dr. Mark Yelland, director of the Hayes-Skolling research laboratory in the Midlands, which has been targeted by the animal-liberation activists, arrived on Thursday. Maycroft will be able to put you in the picture."

    Harkness broke in, "Better take the minimum of people, at least until you know what you're dealing with. The smaller the invasion the better."

    Dalgliesh said, "It will hardly be an invasion. I'm still awaiting a replacement for Tarrant, but I'll take Inspector Miskin and Sergeant Benton-Smith. We can probably manage without a SOCO or official photographer at this stage, but if it proves to be murder, I'll have to have reinforcements or let the local force take over. I'll need a pathologist. I'll speak to Kynaston if I can reach him. He may be away from his lab on a case."

    Harkness said, "That won't be necessary. We're using Edith Glenister. You know her, of course."

    "Hasn't she retired?"

    Conistone said, "Officially two years ago, but she does work occasionally, mostly on sensitive overseas cases. At sixty-five she's probably had enough of trudging gum-booted through muddy fields with the local CID, examining decomposing bodies in ditches."

    Dalgliesh doubted whether this was why Professor Glenister had officially retired. He had never worked with her but he knew her reputation. She was among the most highly regarded of women forensic pathologists, notable for an almost uncanny accuracy in assessing the time of death, for the speed and comprehensiveness of her reports and for the clarity and authority with which she gave evidence in court.

    Continues...


    Excerpted from The Lighthouse by P. D. James Excerpted by permission.
    All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
    Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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    Table of Contents

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    Introduction

    “One of the most compelling books of her remarkable career. . . . A magisterial and subtle exploration of all-too-human emotions.”
    The Seattle Times

    The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group’s discussion of P. D. James’s The Lighthouse, the latest contribution to the Adam Dalgliesh series by one of the world’s great masters of crime fiction.

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    Foreword

    1. Early on, we are given psychological profiles of three main characters who have figured in earlier James novels: Adam Dalgliesh, Kate Miskin, and Francis Benton-Smith. How are these three different in their family backgrounds, and how are they similar in temperament? What do they have in common? How are they each well adapted to the requirements of their profession?

    2. Whom would you consider the main character in the story? Does the narrative style cause you to identify with a single main character, or does it give equal access to the minds of all characters? Is Dalgliesh more emotionally remote than Kate? Is Kate the person with whom the reader is most closely engaged? Among the islanders and visitors, which characters are most likable?

    3. Kate’s unexpected romantic liaison with Piers Tarrant is mentioned early in the novel; later she comes to recognize that her love for Adam Dalgliesh is hopeless. Dalgliesh’s love for Emma and his inability to spend time with her cause him a great deal of anxiety throughout the story. The romance plot for James’s main characters is always subordinate to a more urgent crime plot. What are the effects of these subplots on the reader?

    4. Nathan Oliver is noted, in book 1, chapter 3, to have aged prematurely: “Something — was it confidence, arrogance, hope? — had seeped out of him. . . . What was wrong with the man? He was only sixty-eight, hardly more than late middle-aged by modern reckoning, but he looked over eighty” [p. 52]. Oliver is outraged at the loss of his blood sample [p. 50], and Emily Holcombe wonders whether he might be going mad [p. 35]. Why does James raise so manyquestions about Oliver’s physical and psychological state before the reader learns that he is dead? What does his recurrent dream suggest [p. 82]? Does this dream, as well as Oliver’s reaction to it, present a case for suicide?

    5. In the opening chapters leading up to the first murder, James provides careful background histories for all of the characters on the island. Which characters seem to have the strongest motives for murdering Nathan Oliver? Are there any characters that can be ruled out immediately?

    6. Oliver is drawn as a monster of selfishness who has been ruthless about using and discarding other people according to his own needs. He intends to disinherit Miranda and to fire Tremlett if they persist in their intention to marry, even though they intend to continue in his service as they have in the past. Tremlett tells Miranda, “He won’t let us go. He won’t let our happiness upset his whole life, the way he lives, how he works, what he’s used to” [pp. 59–60]. Yet Oliver, who is so completely lacking in human empathy, is a great novelist. Tremlett says, “He’s a conduit. Emotion flows through him. He can describe but he can’t feel, not for other people” [p. 60]. Is it possible to simultaneously be a great artist and a monstrous human being? How can the two qualities coexist in one person?

    7. The widower Rupert Maycroft seems overwhelmed by the responsibilities he faces as administrator of the Combe Island Trust once Nathan Oliver is found murdered. The doctor Guy Staveley also faces an enormous challenge in having to tend to two patients with SARS. Why are these men so timid in terms of their own abilities, and how do they perform under pressure? Is the crisis on the island ultimately good for both of them?

    8. As the plot proceeds, are all the clues provided to make it possible to guess or deduce the killer? If so, at what point is it possible, and on what grounds?

    9. P. D. James’s love of English poetry and literature comes across in her frequent quoting of such writers as John Donne [p. 59], Virginia Woolf [p. 134], and others. How does this receptivity to poetic language make itself felt in her narrative style and descriptive language?

    10. What social or personal crimes have resulted in destroying the lives of Daniel Padgett, Millie Tranter, and Adrian Boyde? How do these characters shed light on enduring problems in contemporary society?

    11. In addition to the fearful aspects of her murder plot, James brings in another contemporary anxiety when Adam Dalgliesh contracts a life-threatening case of SARS from Dr. Speidel. Discuss how this detail, along with others, allows the story — a fiction set on a remote island — to remind us of the dangers of life in the real world.

    12. In P. D. James’s novels, the setting is usually of great importance in creating a mood as well as in providing plot details. What mood does the setting of Combe Island provide in The Lighthouse? Does the island provide, eventually, a healing and restorative function for various characters? For the three highly stressed detectives of the story, what are the positive and negative effects of their stay on Combe?

    13. James seems to be interested in people who are so consumed by their work — and are indeed so good at their work — that their intimate relationships suffer accordingly. Which of the characters in the novel would you include in this category, and is there hope that this imbalance between love and work can be resolved for them?

    14. What are the most admirable qualities of Kate Miskin, Francis Benton-Smith, and Adam Dalgliesh? Do Kate and Francis seem to have the skill, talent, and sensibility that have allowed Dalgliesh to rise to the top of his profession? Is Kate the real heroine of the story?

    15. How does the ending reflect upon the romance between Adam Dalgliesh and Emma Lavenham? What steps might be taken in the next novel?

    16. What temperamental qualities do Daniel Padgett and Nathan Oliver have in common? Do these qualities create a sort of family resemblance between the father and his unacknowledged son?

    17. James has written, “The classical detective story is rather like the modern morality play. It can provide catharsis, a means by which both writer and reader exorcise irrational feelings of anxiety or guilt. The basic moral premise, the sanctity of life, is also an attraction as is the solution of the plot at the end of the book. The classical detective story affirms our belief that we live in a rational and generally benevolent universe.” In what ways do you see James as a writer of “the classical detective story,” and in what ways does she not fit this model? Is James a believer in “a generally benevolent universe,” or is her vision of society a darker one?

    Read More Show Less

    Reading Group Guide

    1. Early on, we are given psychological profiles of three main characters who have figured in earlier James novels: Adam Dalgliesh, Kate Miskin, and Francis Benton-Smith. How are these three different in their family backgrounds, and how are they similar in temperament? What do they have in common? How are they each well adapted to the requirements of their profession?

    2. Whom would you consider the main character in the story? Does the narrative style cause you to identify with a single main character, or does it give equal access to the minds of all characters? Is Dalgliesh more emotionally remote than Kate? Is Kate the person with whom the reader is most closely engaged? Among the islanders and visitors, which characters are most likable?

    3. Kate’s unexpected romantic liaison with Piers Tarrant is mentioned early in the novel; later she comes to recognize that her love for Adam Dalgliesh is hopeless. Dalgliesh’s love for Emma and his inability to spend time with her cause him a great deal of anxiety throughout the story. The romance plot for James’s main characters is always subordinate to a more urgent crime plot. What are the effects of these subplots on the reader?

    4. Nathan Oliver is noted, in book 1, chapter 3, to have aged prematurely: “Something — was it confidence, arrogance, hope? — had seeped out of him. . . . What was wrong with the man? He was only sixty-eight, hardly more than late middle-aged by modern reckoning, but he looked over eighty” [p. 52]. Oliver is outraged at the loss of his blood sample [p. 50], and Emily Holcombe wonders whether he might be going mad [p. 35]. Why does James raise so many questions about Oliver’s physical and psychological state before the reader learns that he is dead? What does his recurrent dream suggest [p. 82]? Does this dream, as well as Oliver’s reaction to it, present a case for suicide?

    5. In the opening chapters leading up to the first murder, James provides careful background histories for all of the characters on the island. Which characters seem to have the strongest motives for murdering Nathan Oliver? Are there any characters that can be ruled out immediately?

    6. Oliver is drawn as a monster of selfishness who has been ruthless about using and discarding other people according to his own needs. He intends to disinherit Miranda and to fire Tremlett if they persist in their intention to marry, even though they intend to continue in his service as they have in the past. Tremlett tells Miranda, “He won’t let us go. He won’t let our happiness upset his whole life, the way he lives, how he works, what he’s used to” [pp. 59–60]. Yet Oliver, who is so completely lacking in human empathy, is a great novelist. Tremlett says, “He’s a conduit. Emotion flows through him. He can describe but he can’t feel, not for other people” [p. 60]. Is it possible to simultaneously be a great artist and a monstrous human being? How can the two qualities coexist in one person?

    7. The widower Rupert Maycroft seems overwhelmed by the responsibilities he faces as administrator of the Combe Island Trust once Nathan Oliver is found murdered. The doctor Guy Staveley also faces an enormous challenge in having to tend to two patients with SARS. Why are these men so timid in terms of their own abilities, and how do they perform under pressure? Is the crisis on the island ultimately good for both of them?

    8. As the plot proceeds, are all the clues provided to make it possible to guess or deduce the killer? If so, at what point is it possible, and on what grounds?

    9. P. D. James’s love of English poetry and literature comes across in her frequent quoting of such writers as John Donne [p. 59], Virginia Woolf [p. 134], and others. How does this receptivity to poetic language make itself felt in her narrative style and descriptive language?

    10. What social or personal crimes have resulted in destroying the lives of Daniel Padgett, Millie Tranter, and Adrian Boyde? How do these characters shed light on enduring problems in contemporary society?

    11. In addition to the fearful aspects of her murder plot, James brings in another contemporary anxiety when Adam Dalgliesh contracts a life-threatening case of SARS from Dr. Speidel. Discuss how this detail, along with others, allows the story — a fiction set on a remote island — to remind us of the dangers of life in the real world.

    12. In P. D. James’s novels, the setting is usually of great importance in creating a mood as well as in providing plot details. What mood does the setting of Combe Island provide in The Lighthouse? Does the island provide, eventually, a healing and restorative function for various characters? For the three highly stressed detectives of the story, what are the positive and negative effects of their stay on Combe?

    13. James seems to be interested in people who are so consumed by their work — and are indeed so good at their work — that their intimate relationships suffer accordingly. Which of the characters in the novel would you include in this category, and is there hope that this imbalance between love and work can be resolved for them?

    14. What are the most admirable qualities of Kate Miskin, Francis Benton-Smith, and Adam Dalgliesh? Do Kate and Francis seem to have the skill, talent, and sensibility that have allowed Dalgliesh to rise to the top of his profession? Is Kate the real heroine of the story?

    15. How does the ending reflect upon the romance between Adam Dalgliesh and Emma Lavenham? What steps might be taken in the next novel?

    16. What temperamental qualities do Daniel Padgett and Nathan Oliver have in common? Do these qualities create a sort of family resemblance between the father and his unacknowledged son?

    17. James has written, “The classical detective story is rather like the modern morality play. It can provide catharsis, a means by which both writer and reader exorcise irrational feelings of anxiety or guilt. The basic moral premise, the sanctity of life, is also an attraction as is the solution of the plot at the end of the book. The classical detective story affirms our belief that we live in a rational and generally benevolent universe.” In what ways do you see James as a writer of “the classical detective story,” and in what ways does she not fit this model? Is James a believer in “a generally benevolent universe,” or is her vision of society a darker one?

    Read More Show Less

    Customer Reviews

    Average Rating 3.5
    ( 35 )
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    See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 35 Customer Reviews
    • Anonymous

      Posted November 10, 2007

      A reviewer

      Much better than 'Death in Holy Orders,' which was so disappointing that I did not bother with 'The Murder Room,' 'The Lighthouse' is a fine atmospheric tale from Baroness James, whose obsessive love affair with her character (similar, as I have stated in the past, to Elizabeth Sayers' for Lord Peter Wimsley) is far more muted this time around. I was actually surprised at how similar this novel seemed to Colin Dexter's final two Inspector Morse novels, dealing with Morse's health travails. [In fact, this plot thread made the revelation of the murderer seem facile and rushed.] Nevertheless, there are enough red herrings here to satisfy, and, again, a very satisfying effort. While the heady days of 'Devices and Desires' and 'Original Sin' might be behind us, I might just fancy another go at an Adam Dalgliesh mystery if James can maintain this newfound quality she reached in 'The Lighthouse.'

      4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted March 25, 2009

      The Thinking Man's Mystery

      This book was immediately decadent and richly engrossing. My first P.D. James, but most definitely not my last. She masterfully weaves a web of suspense so intricate that you hardly realize you are clenching your jaw. I don't know what kept the pages turning more; the multi-faceted characters, so intimately and realistically crafted that you find yourself deeply invested in the resolution of their thoughts and feelings; or the well paced plot that keeps you suspecting everyone of the capability of a horrific crime. A poetic and beautifully told story.

      3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted November 5, 2006

      A Locked Room Variation

      Here¿s an interesting variation on the ¿locked room¿ plot. Rather than an actual room, James employs an isolated island with a limited number of suspects and a variety of motives. Combe Island is a secure location for the powerful to seek respite. When a famed writer is found hanged in the island¿s lighthouse, authorities aren¿t certain whether it was suicide or murder. Hoping to avoid unwanted publicity, government sidesteps the local constabulary and sends in Commander Adam Dalgliesh and his team to discretely sort out the situation. Ever responsive to duty, Dalgliesh accepts the assignment even though it means another disruption in his ongoing courtship of Emma Lavenham. Coping with her own emotional problems, Detective Inspector Kate Miskin is handed another as she must now supervise the ambitious and ambivalent Sergeant Francis Benton-Smith. The team has barely begun sorting out the clues which determine the first was murder when they are confronted with a second brutal slaying. James complicates the situation further by throwing in a contagious disease that puts Dalgliesh in jeopardy and throws more responsibility on Kate. Despite his health problems, it is still AD who comes up with the solution. As is usual in her novels, action is slowed down to allow ample opportunity for us to get to know the characters and the location. For some all the description and back story may be a distraction. For those of us who grew up on Dickens, Stevenson, Poe, Dostoevsky, Conrad and other greats of the past it¿s a welcome change from the thin cinematic writing that is so prevalent in this television age.

      2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted July 7, 2006

      Fine Mystery by a Great Storyteller

      P.D. James unfolds her story of a double murder in one of her favorite settings: a remote cliffside community on a rocky coast. The evocative atmosphere adds to the reader's enjoyment of the tale, along with sympathetic characters and carefully-hidden clues. Mystery fans looking for a quick, fun read in the style of M.C. Beaton or Sue Grafton will not find it here. The author develops her story gradually with attention to setting, characters, and a complex plot. A great lady has written another great mystery.

      2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted January 18, 2013

      Great read !!

      Wonderful charaters keep you wondering who did it.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted February 6, 2012

      Highly recommended--good read!

      The author did not keep tidbits from you to make it impossible to solve the mystery. I would love to see more of Ms. James' work available in ebooks, great author.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted February 1, 2010

      I Also Recommend:

      Lured me in

      Enjoy all of her Adam Dalgliesh books-all the characters are well defined & you see in depth glimpses into their lives. Book is informative on many levels but the plot is what I enjoy the most.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted August 15, 2009

      I Also Recommend:

      GRIPPING

      This was my second PD James novel. I had already read Devices and Desires. I liked that so much I dove into The Lighthouse. The murder on a secluded island means that there are a limited number of suspects. The character development is amongst the best I have ever read. Once you get past the English phrases, it is fascinating to learn more about each character and why almost all of them are capable of the murder. I listened to it on an audiobook (unabridged) and it was worth the 14 discs. I am going to have my book club read this. I couldn't stop until I was finished.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted May 29, 2008

      Wrong genre?

      The writing is fine but the story is misclassified as a mystery. It would be more appropriate under Interior Design, Architecture of Island cottages or even Culinary Arts. It was a tough read!

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted May 6, 2007

      A reviewer

      Wow, what a boring novel! What more can I write?

      1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted June 23, 2006

      I needed a dictionary

      Maybe I'm a dummy but I couldn't read this book. Too many long words to connect. Couldn't get into a flow. I gave up.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted April 1, 2006

      Could have been better

      I struggled to get through this book. I got the impression she was writing this for the movie studios rather then her audience of readers. While the first chapter got right into a 'murder' the next 50 pages were meeting the principal characters, a definite change in her usual style of allowing us to meet them as they enter the story. While I still love PD James, I wish her latest Dalgliesh msytery had been better. I see she has another one out but the reviews are bad. But loving her the way I do, I'll still buy the book. I'm just not looking forward to it.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted March 11, 2006

      Another masterpiece from P.D. James

      P.D.James really raises the mystery genre to the level of serious literature. So very detailed and crafted. I love her style.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted March 20, 2006

      Exciting whodunit

      THE LIGHTHOUSE is a great book. I'm rather choosy about mysteries. Anything experimental or slangy --- especially authors who strive too visibly to write 'more' than a mystery --- turns me off James is a favorite because she is a master at taking the classic formulas to a higher level and burnishing them until they glow. Not only is 'The Lighthouse' an exciting whodunit, it also is a deeply psychological novel in which the reader gains insight into the personalities of Dalgleish, Kate, and Benton. The central theme of the novel is the intersection of the past and the present, and the impossibility of anyone ever being completely free of his history. This rich and beautifully developed story shows that P. D. James, at eight-five, could give a few lessons to her younger counterparts in the field of mystery writing. Normally one for something a tad more ¿literary¿, say, like McCrae¿s KATZENJAMMER, I found THE LIGHTHOUSE to be a hoot! Entertaining beyond all belief!

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted December 7, 2005

      very disappointed

      awful! bought the book and returned it. it is way too wordy and very hard to get into.

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    • Posted December 9, 2008

      more from this reviewer

      entertaining Dalgliesh police procedural

      The other affluent residents on Combe Island off the Cornish coast are outraged by the behavior and disregard of their feelings and property by renowned novelist Nathan Oliver. The staff detests him even more. Most just want him to leave, but someone does not wait as Oliver is murdered and hung off the famous lighthouse. --- Scotland Yard assigns Metropolitan Murder Squad Commander Adam Dalgliesh to lead the homicide investigation that requires extraordinary prudence as the stressed out elite who reside there will not tolerate even a gentle police interrogation nor does the owning family want a media frenzy. Assisting him are DI Kate Miskin and Sergeant Francis Benton-Smith. The three cops quickly learn that no one, not even the victim¿s daughter Miranda or his editor Dennis Tremlett grieve their loss. Some prefer to believe he hated himself as much as other loathed him so they insist he committed suicide. An accident is possible, but looks doubtful to the investigators as they lean towards murder. --- THE LIGHTHOUSE is an entertaining Dalgliesh police procedural that hooks the audience from the moment the super Commander and his crack team reach Combe Island. They are received by locals that do not wish to cooperate because all agree whether it was murder, suicide, or an accident, the outcome was correct. The romance plays a supporting role to the investigation that showcases the great P.D. James at her best. --- Harriet Klausner

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    • Anonymous

      Posted November 17, 2005

      Mystery¿ and Exceptional Literature¿ by 85 years young author--P.D. James

      'The Lighthouse' is a must read for mystery fans and followers of P.D. James, whose many stories have been filmed for television. This is James's nineteenth book in the series of Commander Adam Dalgliesh, and his police investigative staff, including Detective Inspector Kate Miskin, and Sergeant Francis Benton-Smith. The center stage for a murder is a lighthouse on Combe Island (a fictitious place) off the Cornish coast of England. Owned of late by the Holcombe dynasty, who have established a charitable trust to maintain Combe Island, to be lent out for the purpose of 'a place of rest and seclusion for men in positions of responsibility'. Under consideration by the PM as a prime location for a top-secret international meeting, the killing on the premises halts that meeting. Authorities immediately call on Commander Adam Dalgliesh and his team to investigate. The victim is a well-known, publicized author Nathan Oliver. Supposedly he was disliked by everyone on the island, allowing for probable, justifiable reasons to kill him. Dalgliesh and his team barely have begun piecing together the author's murder, when another killing occurs. With varied suspects to lead the page-turning onward, James surprises the reader with the identity of the killer, and reeling in a satisfactory ending. This is my first read of P.D. James's work. It was totally tantalizing and tasty to whet the appetite for more. 'The Lighthouse' will not be my last read of this exceptional author. James's descriptions of the countryside and surroundings in England is superb, the intelligence in writing is obvious in the lucrative plotting, strong characters, and settings only achieved by a skilled writer, and that is signature P.D. James. P.D. James was in the British Civil Service, including the Police and Criminal Law Departments of Great Britain's Home Office, and a magistrate and governor of the BBC. In 2000 at the time of celebration of her 80th birthday, James published her autobiography -- 'Time to Be in Earnest'. Bestowed with many prizes and honors, she was created Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991. end

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    • Anonymous

      Posted November 29, 2009

      No text was provided for this review.

    • Anonymous

      Posted July 13, 2011

      No text was provided for this review.

    • Anonymous

      Posted June 29, 2011

      No text was provided for this review.

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