The Murder Room (Adam Dalgliesh Series #12)

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Overview

National Bestseller 

Murders present meet murders past in P.D. James’s latest harrowing, thought-provoking thriller.

Commander Adam Dalgliesh is already acquainted with the Dupayne--a museum dedicated to the interwar years, with a room celebrating the most notorious murders of that time--when he is called to investigate the killing of one of the family trustees. He soon discovers that the victim was...

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Overview

National Bestseller 

Murders present meet murders past in P.D. James’s latest harrowing, thought-provoking thriller.

Commander Adam Dalgliesh is already acquainted with the Dupayne--a museum dedicated to the interwar years, with a room celebrating the most notorious murders of that time--when he is called to investigate the killing of one of the family trustees. He soon discovers that the victim was seeking to close the museum against the wishes of the fellow trustees and the Dupayne's devoted staff.  Everyone, it seems, has something to gain from the crime.  When it becomes clear that the murderer has been inspired by the real-life crimes from the murder room--and is preparing to kill again--Dalgliesh knows that to solve this case he has to get into the mind of a ruthless killer.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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

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

“Difficult—and delightful—as 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

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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400076093
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/9/2004
  • Series: Adam Dalgliesh Series , #12
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 274,502
  • Product dimensions: 5.06 (w) x 7.88 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

P. D. James
P.D. James is the author of seventeen previous books, most of which have been filmed and broadcast on television in the United States and other countries. She spent thirty years in various departments of the British Civil Service, including the Police and Criminal Law Departments of Great Britain’s Home Office. She has served as a magistrate and as a governor of the BBC. In 2000 she celebrated her eightieth birthday and published her autobiography, Time to Be in Earnest. The recipient of many prizes and honors, she was created Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991. She lives in London and Oxford.

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

    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.

    Read More Show Less

    Table of Contents

    Read More Show Less

    First Chapter

    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 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.

    Copyright© 2003 by P. D. James
    Read More Show Less

    Introduction

    NATIONAL BESTSELLER

    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

    The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group’s discussion about P. D. James’s The Murder Room, a story that uncovers the dark places of the human mind and the passions that lead to murder.

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    Foreword

    1. Book One is dedicated to introducing a wide array of characters, all of whom are possible suspects in the murder of Neville Dupayne. Judging from the presentation of characters here, who seems most likely to be the killer, and why?

    2. Conrad Ackroyd tells Adam Dalgliesh, “You should read detective fiction. . . . Real-life murder today, apart from being commonplace and — forgive me — a little vulgar, is inhibiting of the imagination”. What are the implications of this joke for the novel to follow?

    3. Dalgliesh’s first visit to the museum just a week before the first murder, we are told, is “one of life’s bizarre coincidences which . . . never fail to surprise”. What other coincidences does James introduce either to complicate or resolve the plot?

    4. Like many of James’s novels, The Murder Room demonstrates a detailed interest in architecture and in historic buildings. How do these settings focus the reader’s attention, and how do ideas about the city of London enrich the novel?

    5. How is the plot revealed? How does James manipulate pacing to maximum effect? Which are the most suspenseful moments?

    6. The Murder Room introduces several unhappy families — the Dupayne siblings, Tally Clutton and her daughter, Muriel Godby’s family, Neville Dupayne and his daughter, among others. To what extent do these families represent the ills of contemporary society? Or are they simply examples of unsentimental realism?

    7. Adam Dalgliesh is in love: “He felt as vulnerable as a boy in love for the first time. . . . Somehow he had to find the courage to risk thatrejection, to accept the momentous presumption that Emma might love him”. In The Murder Room, the hero’s personal life impinges, to some degree, on his professional life. How is the love plot — Dalgliesh’s interest in Emma Lavenham and hers in him — incorporated into the mystery plot?

    8. Tally Clutton clearly has a motive for murder. The reader knows that she didn’t do it; however, since she arrived at the museum just in time to witness Neville Dupayne’s death. How seriously is she considered a suspect by Dalgliesh and his team? If there is a single character at the novel’s moral center, is she the one? Is her near-death the climax of the plot?

    9. How does the novel’s epigraph, from T. S. Eliot’s World War II poem “Burnt Norton,” resonate with the story? Does the epigraph suggest that James’s larger theme is that of time — or history — and identity?

    10. As the plot proceeds, is it possible to guess or deduce the killer? If so, at what point is it possible, and on what grounds?

    11. Conrad Ackroyd is writing a series of articles arguing, “Murder, the unique crime, is a paradigm of its age”. Do the events of the story bear out Ackroyd’s theory? Or does the novel seem to prove instead that murder is the result of human emotions — like rage, resentment, or jealousy — that don’t change over time?

    12. P. D. James is unusually sensitive to the difficulties of finding love, particularly for women. In The Murder Room there are several unattached women, including Kate Miskin, Tally Clutton, Muriel Godby, and Caroline Dupayne. How accurately does the conversation between Emma and her friend Clara reflect these difficulties? How realistic is James’s portrayal of the romantic struggles of her female protagonists?

    13. In The Murder Room, it seems that the contemporary world, with its cell phones, traffic jams, and so on, is unsatisfactory and even dangerous. Early on, Dalgliesh muses that a lunch at the Ackroyds’ villa gives visitors “memories of a more leisurely age and . . . the temporary illusion that the dangerous world was as susceptible as was this domesticity to order, reason, comfort and peace”. In what ways does Adam Dalgliesh attempt to procure comfort and peace for himself? How does he react to the stress of his profession, and does he long for another kind of life?

    14. Neville Dupayne wants to close the museum because he feels strongly that people are too obsessed with the past, and therefore they neglect the problems of the present. Is Muriel Godby obsessed with the past? How does the novel’s conclusion fit into Neville and Muriel’s worldviews?

    15. Many moments in The Murder Room recall the prominence of war in characters’ memories. Emma remembers walking with her nurse to a war memorial, David Wilkins wants to own a painting of Passchendaele as a memorial to his grandfather, Tally remembers the bombing raid that orphaned her, and Dalgliesh remembers his family’s gardener’s stories about his service in World War I. What larger point is James making about the two world wars and their impact on English life?

    16. Reflecting on the investigation, Kate Miskin thinks, “A single man had died and the squad would spend days, weeks, maybe longer deciding the how and why and who. This was murder, the unique crime. The cost of the investigation wouldn’t be counted. Even if they made no arrest, the file wouldn’t be closed. And yet at any minute terrorists might rain death on thousands”. Why is murder considered “the unique crime,” and why is the Murder Room the most visited exhibit in the museum? Is James suggesting that something about murder is particularly disturbing and provocative?

    Read More Show Less

    Reading Group Guide

    1. Book One is dedicated to introducing a wide array of characters, all of whom are possible suspects in the murder of Neville Dupayne. Judging from the presentation of characters here, who seems most likely to be the killer, and why?

    2. Conrad Ackroyd tells Adam Dalgliesh, “You should read detective fiction. . . . Real-life murder today, apart from being commonplace and—forgive me—a little vulgar, is inhibiting of the imagination” [p. 8]. What are the implications of this joke for the novel to follow?

    3. Dalgliesh’s first visit to the museum just a week before the first murder, we are told, is “one of life’s bizarre coincidences which . . . never fail to surprise” [p. 3]. What other coincidences does James introduce either to complicate or resolve the plot?

    4. Like many of James’s novels, The Murder Room demonstrates a detailed interest in architecture and in historic buildings. How do these settings focus the reader’s attention, and how do ideas about the city of London enrich the novel?

    5. How is the plot revealed? How does James manipulate pacing to maximum effect? Which are the most suspenseful moments?

    6. The Murder Room introduces several unhappy families—the Dupayne siblings, Tally Clutton and her daughter, Muriel Godby’s family, Neville Dupayne and his daughter, among others. To what extent do these families represent the ills of contemporary society? Or are they simply examples of unsentimental realism?

    7. Adam Dalgliesh is in love: “He felt as vulnerable as a boy in love for the first time. . . . Somehow he had to find the courage to risk that rejection, to accept the momentous presumption that Emma might love him” [pp. 28–29]. In The Murder Room, the hero’s personal life impinges, to some degree, on his professional life. How is the love plot—Dalgliesh’s interest in Emma Lavenham and hers in him—incorporated into the mystery plot?

    8. Tally Clutton clearly has a motive for murder. The reader knows that she didn’t do it; however, since she arrived at the museum just in time to witness Neville Dupayne’s death. How seriously is she considered a suspect by Dalgliesh and his team? If there is a single character at the novel’s moral center, is she the one? Is her near-death the climax of the plot?

    9. How does the novel’s epigraph, from T. S. Eliot’s World War II poem “Burnt Norton,” resonate with the story? Does the epigraph suggest that James’s larger theme is that of time—or history—and identity?

    10. As the plot proceeds, is it possible to guess or deduce the killer? If so, at what point is it possible, and on what grounds?

    11. Conrad Ackroyd is writing a series of articles arguing, “Murder, the unique crime, is a paradigm of its age” [p. 7]. Do the events of the story bear out Ackroyd’s theory? Or does the novel seem to prove instead that murder is the result of human emotions—like rage, resentment, or jealousy—that don’t change over time?

    12. P. D. James is unusually sensitive to the difficulties of finding love, particularly for women. In The Murder Room there are several unattached women, including Kate Miskin, Tally Clutton, Muriel Godby, and Caroline Dupayne. How accurately does the conversation between Emma and her friend Clara reflect these difficulties [pp. 47–48]? How realistic is James’s portrayal of the romantic struggles of her female protagonists?

    13. In The Murder Room, it seems that the contemporary world, with its cell phones, traffic jams, and so on, is unsatisfactory and even dangerous. Early on, Dalgliesh muses that a lunch at the Ackroyds’ villa gives visitors “memories of a more leisurely age and . . . the temporary illusion that the dangerous world was as susceptible as was this domesticity to order, reason, comfort and peace” [p. 6]. In what ways does Adam Dalgliesh attempt to procure comfort and peace for himself? How does he react to the stress of his profession, and does he long for another kind of life?

    14. Neville Dupayne wants to close the museum because he feels strongly that people are too obsessed with the past, and therefore they neglect the problems of the present [pp. 191–92]. Is Muriel Godby obsessed with the past? How does the novel’s conclusion fit into Neville and Muriel’s worldviews?

    15. Many moments in The Murder Room recall the prominence of war in characters’ memories. Emma remembers walking with her nurse to a war memorial [p. 46], David Wilkins wants to own a painting of Passchendaele as a memorial to his grandfather [p. 250], Tally remembers the bombing raid that orphaned her [p. 49], and Dalgliesh remembers his family’s gardener’s stories about his service in World War I [p. 209]. What larger point is James making about the two world wars and their impact on English life?

    16. Reflecting on the investigation, Kate Miskin thinks, “A single man had died and the squad would spend days, weeks, maybe longer deciding the how and why and who. This was murder, the unique crime. The cost of the investigation wouldn’t be counted. Even if they made no arrest, the file wouldn’t be closed. And yet at any minute terrorists might rain death on thousands” [p. 133]. Why is murder considered “the unique crime,” and why is the Murder Room the most visited exhibit in the museum? Is James suggesting that something about murder is particularly disturbing and provocative?

    Read More Show Less

    Customer Reviews

    Average Rating 3.5
    ( 33 )
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    See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 33 Customer Reviews
    • Anonymous

      Posted November 5, 2003

      strong British investigative tale

      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. <P>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. <P>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. <P>Harriet Klausner

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted October 18, 2009

      Excellent writing style, multifaceted, almost literary

      This is a book you can take time with, you really get to know the characters, and the language is lovely.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted April 23, 2009

      Very literary and engrossing Read.

      My first P. D. James/Adam Dalgliesh novel. I already am shopping for another.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted May 11, 2008

      Engaging

      Well written, developed characters and satisfying finale. The interesting thing here is the plot. The museum, like a Ripley's B/it or not, devoted to true crime...sounds like a place I want to visit! I didn't guess the murderer, but all the clues were there. P.D. James at her most excellent.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted July 29, 2005

      My first PDJames book

      Frankly, I was disappointed. For such an impressive introduction to who PD James is ( I originally thought 'her' a 'him') in the front pages, I was expecting a stronger plot, bizarre murders or at least a strong enough motive for a murder to be committed. I'm not saying that I didn't obtain any of the above from the book, I just thought that what WAS there was not convincing enough. There's a lot of repetition, self-explanation.. some of the dialogue weren't even natural and I just lost interest halfway but pushed myself to finish it just to find out who did it. No surprises there either. I have no doubt this is not one of her best works. Any suggestions for one that is?

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    • Anonymous

      Posted April 28, 2005

      Who didn't see that coming?

      I must admit that after all the hype this book received I was expecting a WOW ending. Apparently the great reviews got my hopes up a little too high and the ending, for me, did not exceed expectations. I would recommend it for avid mystery readers but not for those who may be reading mysteries for the first time.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted December 30, 2004

      Intriguing British Puzzle

      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.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted May 17, 2004

      Highly recommended

      I love Adam Dalgliesh, possibly because he is a poet, a solitary, erudite figure whose insights make him an emotionally formidable and mythic character. P. D. James's novels move beyond the genre of murder mystery. In fact, the murders are usually beside the point. Her novels are literate, and beautifully crafted. In The Murder Room, the precipitating murder is especially gruesome and the suspects are numerous. They have distinct (dare I say, colorful) personalities, and they all have something to hide. This is a fine addition to the Dalgliesh series. It is lush with sublime descriptions of architecture, and landscape. The interludes about Adam and Emma slow the story down, and their relationship is not as interesting as all the other encounters in the book. Still, the Murder Room is a fantastic read!

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    • Anonymous

      Posted February 20, 2004

      FIRST-RATE READING

      Popular British author P. D. James never seems to run out of plots, situations and surprises - lucky for us! London born Emmy Award-winning actor Charles Keating gives a bravura performance of her latest Adam Dalgliesh mystery. Taking its title from one of the most popular galleries in the Dupayne Museum, 'The Murder Room' proves to be one of the commanders most challenging cases as each step he takes in solving the mystery seems to distance him from the woman he loves. The Dupayne, a small private family owned museum located by London's Hampstead Heath, is bound for trouble as one member of the family is intent upon selling it and others are not. It's rather an odd museum dedicated to England between the wars (1919 - 1939). The Murder Room is a gallery full of artifacts representing heinous crimes committed during that time period. To sell or not to sell is not a mere family squabble, it's bitter conflict made even more so when one of the family members is murdered. Almost before Dalgliesh and his cohorts can begin their investigation another dead body is discovered. To make matters even more surreal the killings bear a strong resemblance to slayings commemorated in the Murder Room. Now, there are a host of possible suspects, including Museum staff, and a number of possible future victims. Dalgliesh must not only work with his usual intensity but he must work rapidly. P. D. James weaves another spell for mystery aficionados.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted December 3, 2003

      A good read, but nothing new to tell

      Don't get me wrong, it's not that I didn't enjoy The Murder Room. It's just that a lot of the plot I could 'sense.' For instance, it was no surprise that relationship problems were 'on the horizon' for Mr. Dalgliesh and Emma. To me, this book lacked a lot of the suspense and plot twists that Death in Holy Orders had. The twists and turns are normally why I look forward to reading P.D. James, too, plus why I was so looking forward to this book's release. And why I am somewhat disappointed.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted December 9, 2003

      p d james at her best

      a truly great read. typically slow english murder mystery pace lso you can savior each clue; yet you still never fiqure out who done it. i liked she did not spend a lot of time on the love story of adam and emma. i would definitely recommend this book and all p d james adam deglish mysteries.

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      Posted January 16, 2011

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      Posted September 29, 2011

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      Posted January 26, 2010

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      Posted August 26, 2009

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      Posted March 2, 2011

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      Posted January 20, 2010

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