The Barnes & Noble Review
Known for her leisurely paced, thoughtful, and well-characterized novels, P. D. James has risen to the top tier of British mystery writers; and, even after 16 books, she continues to outdo herself. This time out, she offers a cleverly restrained, engaging plot that twists around a handful of unusual, memorable suspects.
The Dupayne Museum, founded by Max Dupayne, is dedicated to the preservation of England's history between the world wars. As the museum's trustees, Max's three heirs -- Marcus, Neville, and Caroline -- debate the fate of the Dupayne. Brash psychiatrist Neville is determined to close it down, a position that is bitterly opposed by his two siblings. When Neville is found heinously murdered, Commander Adam Dalgliesh of the Special Investigation Squad is brought in to find the killer.
The "Murder Room" itself is an intriguing concept: an area of the museum where gruesome weapons and mementos from notorious homicides are displayed. Not only does the room become the setting for a crime; it also provides a resonant backdrop and metaphor for all that transpires in the book. James does a masterful job of contrasting the chilling relics of the past with the complex passions of victims and villains alike.
This is a riveting, first-rate novel so inventive and uniquely structured that it's impossible not to be completely drawn in. With a sure hand, the author slowly unveils a captivating mystery involving real flesh-and-blood characters we can identify with. The Murder Room proves once more why P. D. James remains the grande dame of the crime field. Tom Piccirilli
The New York Times
Despite her elegiac frame of mind, Ms. James has not lost her taste for a good throttling. Nor has she ceased to remind readers of why her elaborate gamesmanship retains its value. "You should read detective fiction," someone in The Murder Room advises Commander Adam Dalgliesh, her much-admired detective. "Real-life murder today, apart from being commonplace and -- forgive me -- a little vulgar, is inhibiting of the imagination." Janet Maslin
The Washington Post
[The] slow build-up is, however, immensely satisfying, with James introducing her large cast and its secrets with consummate skill.
NY Times Sunday Book Review
The Murder Room is James's most suspenseful, atmospheric novel in years and has no shortage of surprise twists. Patricia T. O'Conner
Neither the mystery nor the detective present James's followers with anything truly new in her latest Adam Dalgliesh novel (after 2001's Death in Holy Orders), which opens, like other recent books in the series, with an extended portrayal of an aging institution whose survival is threatened by one person, who rapidly becomes the focus of resentment and hostility. Neville Dupayne, a trustee of the Dupayne Museum, a small, private institution devoted to England between the world wars, plans to veto its continuing operation. After many pages of background on the museum's employees, volunteers and others who would be affected by the trustee's unpopular decision, Neville meets his end in a manner paralleling a notorious historical murder exhibited in the museum's "Murder Room." MI5's interest in one of the people connected with the crime leads to Commander Dalgleish and his team taking on the case. While a romance develops between the commander, who's even more understated than usual, and Emma Lavenham, introduced in Death in Holy Orders, this subplot has minimal impact. A second murder raises the ante, but the whodunit aspect falls short of James's best work. Hopefully, this is an isolated lapse for an author who excels at characterization and basic human psychology. (Nov. 18) Forecast: This BOMC main selection, with its 300,000 first printing, is likely to do as well as other recent titles in this sterling series, despite its weaknesses. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
James's latest mystery revolves around a small private London museum whose trustees are embroiled in a bitter dispute over whether it should be closed. When Neville Dupayne, the trustee in favor of closure, is brutally murdered in a manner reminiscent of one of the notorious historical crimes featured in the museum's Murder Room, Commander Adam Dalgliesh and his team are called to investigate. This is soon followed by a second killing. At the same time, the long-widowed Dalgliesh is struggling to come to terms with his growing feelings for Cambridge professor Emma Lavenham (who first appeared in Death in Holy Orders). Will his love life finally be resolved? In what might be the swan song for the octogenarian Baroness James and her brilliant but aloof poet/detective, The Murder Room features all the usual Jamesian elements: the cool, measured prose, the fully fleshed, morally complex characters, the shocking, eerie crimes, and the detailed plot littered with clever red herrings. For most mystery collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 8/03; BOMC main selection.]-Wilda Williams, "Library Journal" Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
A beleaguered private museum on the edge of Hampstead Heath provides James's latest lethal biosphere. The lease on Dupayne Museum, devoted to the cultural history of England between the two world wars, is about to expire, and all three of founder Max Dupayne's children have to endorse the terms of any renewal. Marcus Dupayne, the museum's de facto manager, and his sister Caroline, joint principal of the exclusive Swathling's School, are nervously eyeing psychiatrist Neville, who's determined to take this opportunity to veto the museum out of existence-until he's killed in circumstances that recall a famous murder memorialized in the museum. Though his siblings are obvious suspects, much more is at stake than their welfare. The entire staff, from curator James Calder-Hale to receptionist Muriel Godby to housekeeper Tally Clutton, depend in different ways on the museum's survival, and Calder-Hale's involvement brings in Commander Adam Dalgliesh's elite Special Investigation Squad to shine a pitiless light on them all. It's a signal achievement of the ceremonious investigation that even after it's revealed the sad truth about three violent deaths, most readers will be sorry to take their leave of a cast that seems to have still more depths to plumb. Despite a plot less ineluctable than her best (Death in Holy Orders, 2001, etc.), James creates another teeming world in which murder is only the symptom of a more pervasive mortality. First printing of 300,000; Book-of-the-Month Club main selection
From the Publisher
“The Murder Room is James’s most suspenseful, atmospheric novel in years and has no shortage of surprise twists.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Another elegant tale of murder, mystery, human misery and the wonder of loveÉ. James explores the lowest of depravity . . . with the most elegant prose.” —USA Today
“Riveting . . . exquisite, absorbing. . . . The Murder Room possesses everything we desire, no, long for, from James.” —The Miami Herald
"Elegantly constructed, beautifully written . . . [The Murder Room] is cause for rejoicing. . . . [It] is that much-sought-after but rare combination of reading that both transports the reader to another world and engages the imagination." —St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Difficultand delightfulas it is to believe, P. D. James keeps getting better. . . . The Murder Room might be the best mystery novel of 2003. . . . This is a book to savor . . . with writing so felicitous the reader doesn't want it to end.” —Indianapolis Star
“Riveting. . . . The Murder Room possesses everything we desire from James. . . . [Her] lovely, clear prose travels at a stately pace, never cluttered by random violence or unnecessary characters, taking us where we need to be with assurance, intelligence and grace. No word or action is wasted; everyone and everything matters.” —The Chicago Tribune
“Ms. James skill is impressively displayed.” —The New York Times
“P.D. James is surely one of the best living writers of English. [The Murder Room]’s typical James–wonderful English settings, fine writing, psychological depth.” —Rocky Mountain News
“Any ranking of today’s best crime writers would surely put Britain’s P.D. James at or near the top. This subtly told, character-driven novel, which emphasizes people over plot, provides, as usual, a richly-rewarding reading experience.” —The San Diego Union-Tribune
“Immensely satisfying, with James introducing her large cast and its secrets with consummate skill.” —The Washington Post
“Carefully crafted . . . [with] richly portrayed characters. . . . P. D. James can still spin an intricate web of psychological suspense that demands the reader's attention and involvement. . . . James tells this tale in lucid language, with a wry eye on people and their faults.” —San Antonio Express-News
“Elegant . . . smooth storytelling. . . . The culprit remains convincingly elusive until the end.” —Houston Chronicle
“A perfectly cozy read for a cold, foggy night when you feel like curling up with a cup of tea.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Sophisticated literary entertainment. . . . Masterful detailing of people and place. . . . Acute psychological portraits. . . . [A] carefully crafted tale.” —The Orlando Sentinel
“Literate prose, sprinkled with enough deliciously British details to satisfy even the most diehard Anglophile. . . . [James is] an enormously appealing novelist.” —The Boston Globe
“Expertly plotted and elegantly written, the novel will stand with the best of her always-fine work. And as usual with a James novel, the characters are drawn with care and sympathy.” —The Richmond Times-Dispatch
“James whips up a thought-provoking, finely crafted literary murder mystery. . . . The Murder Room is a riveting and well-constructed read.” —San Jose Mercury News
“Elegant language and deft, intricate characterizations.” —Pittsburg Tribune-Review
“James writes of the whydunit rather than the whodunit and her grasp and appreciation for the boundless perplexities of human behavior deeply enriches her books.” —Philadelphia Inquirer
“The eminence grise of British detective fiction, James delivers another ruminative puzzler, generous in character, graceful in prose.” —The Village Voice
“James' strength as a writer lies in her ability to craft characters with depth. She doesn't just supply names and ages but gives readers a sense of her characters' desires and motives (and not just murderous ones).” —Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Read an Excerpt
On Friday 25 October, exactly one week before the first body was discovered at the Dupayne Museum, Adam Dalgliesh visited the museum for the first time. The visit was fortuitous, the decision impulsive and he was later to look back on that afternoon as one of life's bizarre coincidences which, although occurring more frequently than reason would expect, never fail to surprise.Copyright© 2003 by P. D. James
He had left the Home Office building in Queen Anne's Gate at two-thirty after a long morning meeting only briefly interrupted by the usual break for brought-in sandwiches and indifferent coffee, and was walking the short distance back to his New Scotland Yard office. He was alone; that too was fortuitous. The police representation at the meeting had been strong and Dalgliesh would normally have left with the Assistant Commissioner, but one of the Under Secretaries in the Criminal Policy Department had asked him to look in at his office to discuss a query unrelated to the morning's business, and he walked unaccompanied. The meeting had produced the expected imposition of paperwork and as he cut through St James's Park Underground station into Broadway he debated whether to return to his office and risk an afternoon of interruptions or to take the papers home to his Thames-side flat and work in peace.
There had been no smoking at the meeting but the room had seemed musty with spent breath and now he took pleasure in breathing fresh air, however briefly. It was a blustery day but unseasonably mild. The bunched clouds were tumbling across a sky of translucent blue and he could have imagined that this was spring except for the autumnal sea-tang of the river -- surely half imagined -- and the keenness ofthe buffeting wind as he came out of the station.
Seconds later he saw Conrad Ackroyd standing on the kerb at the corner of Dacre Street and glancing from left to right with that air of mingled anxiety and hope typical of a man waiting to hail a taxi. Almost immediately Ackroyd saw him and came towards him, both arms outstretched, his face beaming under a wide-brimmed hat. It was an encounter Dalgliesh couldn't now avoid and had no real wish to. Few people were unwilling to see Conrad Ackroyd. His perpetual good humour, his interest in the minutiae of life, his love of gossip and above all his apparent agelessness were reassuring. He looked exactly the same now as he had when Dalgliesh and he had first met decades earlier. It was difficult to think of Ackroyd succumbing to serious illness or facing personal tragedy, while the news that he had died would have seemed to his friends a reversal of the natural order. Perhaps, thought Dalgliesh, that was the secret of his popularity; he gave his friends the comforting illusion that fate was beneficent. As always, he was dressed with an endearing eccentricity. The fedora hat was worn at a rakish angle, the stout little body was encased in a plaid tweed cloak patterned in purple and green. He was the only man Dalgliesh knew who wore spats. He was wearing them now.
‘Adam, lovely to see you. I wondered whether you might be in your office but I didn't like to call. Too intimidating, my dear. I'm not sure they'd let me in, or if I'd get out if they did. I've been lunching at a hotel in Petty France with my brother. He comes to London once a year and always stays there. He's a devout Roman Catholic and the hotel is convenient for Westminster Cathedral. They know him and are very tolerant.'
Tolerant of what? wondered Dalgliesh. And was Ackroyd referring to the hotel, the Cathedral, or both? He said, ‘I didn't know you had a brother, Conrad.'
‘I hardly know it myself, we meet so seldom. He's something of a recluse.' He added, ‘He lives in Kidderminster,' as if that fact explained all.
Dalgliesh was on the point of making tactful murmurings of imminent departure when his companion said, ‘I suppose, dear boy, I couldn't bend you to my will? I want to spend a couple of hours at the Dupayne Museum in Hampstead. Why not join me? You know the Dupayne of course?'
‘I've heard of it but never visited.'
‘But you should, you should. It's a fascinating place. Dedicated to the inter-war years, 1919—1938. Small but comprehensive. They have some good pictures: Nash, Wyndham Lewis, Ivon Hitchens, Ben Nicholson. You'd be particularly interested in the library. First editions and some holographs and, of course, the inter-war poets. Do come.'
‘Another time, perhaps.'
‘You never manage another time, do you? But now I've caught you, regard it as fate. I'm sure you have your Jag tucked up somewhere in the Met's underground garage. We can drive.'
‘You mean I can drive.'
‘And you'll come back to Swiss Cottage for tea, won't you? Nellie will never forgive me if you don't.'
‘How is Nellie?'
‘Bonny, thank you. Our doctor retired last month. After twenty years together it was a sad parting. Still, his successor seems to understand our constitutions and it might be as well to have a younger man.'
Conrad and Nellie Ackroyd's marriage was so well established that few people now bothered to wonder at its incongruity or to indulge in prurient speculation about its possible consummation. Physically they could hardly have been more different. Conrad was plump, short and dark with inquisitive bright eyes and moved as sprightly as a dancer on small nimble feet. Nellie was at least three inches taller, pale-skinned and flat-chested, and wore her fading blonde hair curled in plaits on each side of her head like earphones. Her hobby was collecting first editions of 1920s and 1930s girls' school stories. Her collection of Angela Brazils was regarded as unique. Conrad and Nellie's enthusiasms were their house and garden, meals -- Nellie was a superb cook -- their two Siamese cats and the indulgence of Conrad's mild hypochondria. Conrad still owned and edited The Paternoster Review, notable for the virulence of its unsigned reviews and articles. In private life he was the kindest of Jekylls, in his editorial role an unrepentant Hyde.
A number of his friends whose wilfully overburdened lives inhibited the enjoyment of all but necessary pleasures somehow found time to take afternoon tea with the Ackroyds in their neat Edwardian villa in Swiss Cottage with its comfortable sitting-room and atmosphere of timeless indulgence. Dalgliesh was occasionally among them. The meal was a nostalgic and unhurried ritual. The delicate cups with their handles aligned, the thin brown bread and butter, bite-size cucumber sandwiches and homemade sponge and fruit cakes made their expected appearance, brought in by an elderly maid who would have been a gift to a casting agent recruiting actors for an Edwardian soap opera. To older visitors the tea brought back memories of a more leisurely age and, to all, the temporary illusion that the dangerous world was as susceptible as was this domesticity to order, reason, comfort and peace. To spend the early evening gossiping with the Ackroyds would, today, be unduly self-indulgent. All the same, Dalgliesh could see that it wouldn't be easy to find a valid excuse for refusing to drive his friend to Hampstead. He said, ‘I'll drive you to the Dupayne with pleasure, but I might not be able to stay if you plan a long visit.'
‘Don't worry, dear boy. I'll get a cab back.'
From the Hardcover edition.