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The Murder Room (Adam Dalgliesh Series #12)

The Murder Room (Adam Dalgliesh Series #12)

3.6 33
by P. D. James

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Commander Adam Dalgliesh, P. D. James’s formidable and fascinating detective, returns to find himself enmeshed in a terrifying story of passion and mystery -- and in love.

The Dupayne, a small private museum in London devoted to the interwar years 1919 -- 1939, is in turmoil. As its trustees argue over whether it should be closed, one of them is


Commander Adam Dalgliesh, P. D. James’s formidable and fascinating detective, returns to find himself enmeshed in a terrifying story of passion and mystery -- and in love.

The Dupayne, a small private museum in London devoted to the interwar years 1919 -- 1939, is in turmoil. As its trustees argue over whether it should be closed, one of them is brutally and mysteriously murdered. Yet even as Commander Dalgliesh and his team proceed with their investigation, a second corpse is discovered. Someone in the Dupayne is prepared to kill and kill again. Still more sinister, the murders appear to echo the notorious crimes of the past featured in one of the museum’s galleries: the Murder Room.

The case is fraught with danger and complications from the outset, but for Dalgliesh the complications are unexpectedly profound. His new relationship with Emma Lavenham -- introduced in the last Dalgliesh novel, Death in Holy Orders -- is at a critical stage. Now, as he moves closer and closer to a solution to the puzzle, he finds himself driven further and further from commitment to the woman he loves.

The Murder Room is a powerful work of mystery and psychological intricacy from a master of the modern novel.

“You can’t possibly know him.”

“I can know enough,” Emma said. “I can’t know everything, no one can. Loving him doesn’t give me the right to walk in and out of his mind as if it were my room at college. He’s the most private person I’ve ever met. But I know the things about him that matter.”

But did she? Emma asked herself. Adam Dalgleish was intimate with those dark crevices of the human mind where horrors lurked which she couldn’t begin to comprehend. Not even that appalling scene in the church at St. Anselm’s had shown her the worst that human beings could do to each other. She knew about those horrors from literature; he explored them daily in his work. Sometimes, waking from sleep in the early hours, the vision she had of him was of the dark face masked, the hands smooth and impersonal in the sleek latex gloves. What hadn’t those hands touched? She rehearsed the questions she wondered if she would ever be able to ask. Why do you do it? Is it necessary to your poetry? Why did you choose this job? Or did it choose you?
-- from
The Murder Room

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“[A] superbly realized setting. … The plot unfolds at its Jamesian leisure; the rich, almost posh quality of its slow unveiling allows for sharp sketches of character and place…. [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

“[T]he premise is delicious.”
Telegraph (UK)

The Murder Room is a brilliantly crafted novel, brimming with detail and rich in suspense; a further testament to James’s skills in both.”
Waterstone’s Books Quarterly (UK)

“If crime fiction were classical music, P. D. James’s books would be filed under Grand Opera. In a sense, James is the last of the great Golden Age crime writers. She has an instinctive grasp of narrative: despite the leisurely prose, the shocks are beautifully handled. The plot purrs along like a well-designed and well-maintained engine. James writes with rare authority about the civil service, the police and the justice system. She also does an exceptionally good corpse — she never cheapens the physical appearance of death, but describes it with both respect and clinical attention to detail.”
The Independent (UK)

“James’s eye for architecture and nature is rare in most genres of the novel now, and this skill for physical description -- along with her psychological acuity.”
The Guardian (UK)

From the Hardcover edition.

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. — Laura Lippman
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
Publishers Weekly
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.
Library Journal
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.
Kirkus Reviews
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

Product Details

Knopf Canada
Publication date:
Adam Dalgliesh Series , #12
Product dimensions:
4.20(w) x 6.90(h) x 1.35(d)

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.

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 of the 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.

Meet the Author

P. D. James is the author of 17 previous 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.

From the Hardcover edition.

Brief Biography

London, England
Date of Birth:
August 3, 1920
Place of Birth:
Oxford, England
Attended the Cambridge High School for Girls from 1931 to 1937 and later took evening classes in hospital administration

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The Murder Room (Adam Dalgliesh Series #12) 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 33 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a book you can take time with, you really get to know the characters, and the language is lovely.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a completely satisfying mystery. It kept me guessing until the end. The plot was well drawn out and characterization impeccable as usual. Ms. James seems to be getting better and better after all these years and that is saying something. I reccommend this book to those who want to be involved in first rate, intelligent mystery reading.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Dupayne Museum in Hampstead Heath, England provides a deep look at the country¿s culture during the two decades that separated the two world wars. However, the lease on the property is almost expired and renewal requires unanimous approval of the three trustees, the adult children of founder Max Dupayne. The museum¿s manager Marcus Dupayne and his sister Caroline (a school principal) endorse the renewal, but the third sibling psychiatrist Neville wants to shut down the museum.

However, Neville¿s nay saying comes to a quick end when someone kills him using the MO of a famous homicide depicted in the Dupayne Museum. His two siblings are not the only suspects because several people have the motive of keeping the Dupayne Museum open. A widower, Police Commander Adam Dalgliesh would prefer to investigate his growing fondness for Professor Emma Lavenham, but knows he and his Special Investigation Squad must conduct an official inquiry.

The latest Dalgliesh police procedural is a strong British investigative tale that readers of the series and fans of the sub-genre will take pleasure in due to a strong cast of suspects. The story line moves forward as the Commander and his team make inquiries into a host of potential culprits each with viable means, motives, and opportunities so that the audience never quite knows who the killer is until the climax. The romance subplot never takes off and consequently is not a distracter from the lead protagonist working the case and fans don¿t get to see him move forward in his personal life. P.D. James shows once again why she is one of grandmasters of the mystery novel.

Harriet Klausner

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