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Original Sin (Adam Dalgliesh Series #9)

Original Sin (Adam Dalgliesh Series #9)

4.3 15
by P. D. James

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When Gerard Etienne turns up dead at the English publishing firm he had just taken over, there's no shortage of suspects. The ruthless new chairman of Peverell Press had a host of enemies: rejected authors, disenchanted colleagues and a discarded lover.

Detective Adam Dalgliesh and company untangle this mess, replete with complex dynamics and hiding a killer who won


When Gerard Etienne turns up dead at the English publishing firm he had just taken over, there's no shortage of suspects. The ruthless new chairman of Peverell Press had a host of enemies: rejected authors, disenchanted colleagues and a discarded lover.

Detective Adam Dalgliesh and company untangle this mess, replete with complex dynamics and hiding a killer who won't hesitate to strike again.

"Britian's gift to the literature of mystery." (B-O-T Editorial Review Board)

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A sprawling paean to the Thames River and its London environs, James's 12th novel and latest mystery to feature New Scotland Yard Commander Adam Dalgleish is set in the modern publishing world where traditions may crumble but where such timeless emotions as grief, rage and love prevail. Peverell Press, which occupies the magnificent Innocent House, modeled on the palaces of Venice and built by the firm's founder in 1792, has been plagued by the misdeeds-misplaced manuscripts, lost illustrations-of an unknown ``office menace'' since the death, nine months earlier, of managing director Henry Peverell. The stakes are upped when a senior editor, recently sacked by the new director Gerard Etienne, kills herself. When Etienne is found dead in the same room, Dalgleish is called in to investigate. He discovers that plenty of people, including the four other partners in the firm and various employees whose jobs are threatened by Etienne's plans to sell Innocent House and modernize the firm, had reason to wish Etienne dead. James (Devices and Desires) gives pride of place here to lush, leisurely descriptions of waterside London and the landscape of the Essex coast; Dalgleish and his assistants seem more observers than participants in this plot that ticks along on its own momentum, driven by the various suspects' motivations and actions to the credible, if not fully prepared for, resolution. BOMC selection; Random House Large Print edition (ISBN 0-679-76033-4); author tour. (Feb.)
Library Journal
After a quick detour into science fiction with her last novel, The Children of Men (Knopf, 1993), the venerable James returns to the genre that made her famous. In Original Sin, detective Adam Dalgliesh investigates the bizarre death of a ruthless publisher.
Bill Ott
Like a poet committed to sonnets in an age of free verse, P. D. James continues to show the younger, more rambunctious crime writers (Hiaasen, Dibdin, Ellroy) that there's still some life left in the classical detective story. Of course, it helps when the sleuth injecting most of that life is the inimitable, ever-suave Adam Dalgleish, critically acclaimed poet and Scotland Yard commander. Both of Dalgleish's vocations come into play here, at least tangentially, as the murders in question take place at one of London's oldest publishing houses, Peverell Press, located on the banks of the Thames in a Venetian-style mansion called, ironically, Innocent House. A slumping frontlist is the least of the problems at this once-distinguished press: its senior staff is being bumped off faster than a copy editor can blue-pencil a dangling participle. James has created a classic country-house mystery here, with the house transported to the city and the five partners at Peverell Press taking the roles of the landed gentry. One of the surviving four, after the managing director turns up dead, is clearly a killer, and James expertly constructs believable scenarios that might convict any of them. And don't forget the subplot: in this case, the personal crises of Dalgleish's two lieutenant's, Kate Miskin, choosing career over love, and Daniel Aaron, letting his ties to his family and his Jewish heritage slip away All the pieces of the puzzle are in place, and James plays them with careful attention to the rigors of formula, yet the novel is always more than its form, just as the best sonnets are more than 14 lines of tightly controlled rhymes. As we learn about the various suspects, we're not just building scenarios and detecting red herrings; we're also learning about people, observing their frailties, recognizing their illusions, and, above all, feeling their pain. Order is always restored at the end of a James novel, as formula requires, yet it is never without an overpowering sense of loss. Perhaps that is the real mark of James' genius and her enduring popularity in a very un-classical age: she gives us the comfort of the classical detective story, but it comes at a price, a quiet reminder that order--however we crave it--rarely penetrates the human heart.
From the Publisher
“Complex and compelling.... James is writing in full mastery of her craft.”—The New York Times Book Review“One of James's best novels.... James transcends literary classification.” —Chicago Sun-Times"The queen of the British murder mystery demonstrates why the crown is hers."—Newsday"One of James's most savory fictions. . . . A marvelous tale."—San Francisco Chronicle “One of her most enjoyable and vigorous novels.”—The Plain Dealer

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Adam Dalgliesh Series , #9
Product dimensions:
6.58(w) x 9.60(h) x 1.53(d)

Read an Excerpt

1For a temporary shorthand-typist to be present at the discovery of a corpse on the first day of a new assignment, if not unique, is sufficiently rare to prevent its being regarded as an occupational hazard. Certainly Mandy Price, aged nineteen years two months, and the acknowledged star of Mrs. Crealey's Nonesuch Secretarial Agency, set out on the morning of Tuesday 14 September for her interview at the Peverell Press with no more apprehension than she usually felt at the start of a new job, an apprehension which was never acute and was rooted less in any anxiety whether she would satisfy the expectations of the prospective employer than in whether the employer would satisfy hers. She had learned of the job the previous Friday, when she called in at the agency at six o'clock to collect her pay after a boring two-week stint with a director who regarded a secretary as a status symbol but had no idea how to use her skills, and she was ready for something new and preferably exciting, although perhaps not as exciting as it was subsequently to prove.Mrs. Crealey, for whom Mandy had worked for the past three years, conducted her agency from a couple of rooms above a newsagent and tobacconist's shop off the Whitechapel Road, a situation which, she was fond of pointing out to her girls and clients, was convenient both for the City and for the towering offices of Docklands. Neither had so far produced much in the way of business, but while other agencies foundered in the waves of recession Mrs. Crealey's small and underprovisioned ship was still, if precariously, afloat. Except for the help of one of her girls when no outside work was available, she ran the agency single-handed. The outer room was her office, in which she propitiated clients, interviewed new girls and assigned the next week's work. The inner was her personal sanctum, furnished with a divan bed on which she occasionally spent the night in defiance of the terms of the lease, a drinks cabinet and refrigerator, a cupboard which opened to reveal a minute kitchen, a large television set and two easy chairs set in front of a gas fire in which a lurid red light rotated behind artificial logs. She referred to her room as the "cosy," and Mandy was one of the few girls who were admitted to its privacies.It was probably the cosy which kept Mandy Faithful to the agency, although she would never have openly admitted to a need which would have seemed to her both childish and embarrassing. Her mother had left home when she was six and she herself had been hardly able to wait for her sixteenth birthday, when she could get away from a father whose idea of parenthood had gone little further than the provision of two meals a day which she was expected to cook, and her clothes. For the last year she had rented one room in a terraced house in Stratford East, where she lived in acrimonious camaraderie with three young friends, the main cause of dispute being Mandy's insistence that her Yamaha motor bike should be parked in the narrow hall. But it was the cosy in Whitechapel Road, the mingled smells of wine and takeaway Chinese food, the hiss of the gas fire, the two deep and battered armchairs in which she could curl up and sleep, which represented all Mandy had ever known of the comfort and security of a home.Mrs. Crealey, sherry bottle in one hand and a scrap of jotting pad in the other, munched at her cigarette holder until she had manoeuvred it to the corner of her mouth, where, as usual, it hung in defiance of gravity, and squinted at her almost indecipherable handwriting through immense horn-rimmed spectacles."It's a new client, Mandy, the Peverell Press. I've looked them up in the publishers' directory. They're one of the oldest--perhaps the oldest--publishing firm in the country, founded in 1792. Their place is on the river. The Peverell Press, Innocent House, Innocent Walk, Wapping. You must have seen Innocent House if you've taken a boat trip to Greenwich. Looks like a bloody great Venetian palace. They do have a launch, apparently, to collect staff from Charing Cross Pier, but that'll be no help to you, living in Stratford. It's your side of the Thames, though, which will help with the journey; I suppose you'd better take a taxi. Mind you get them to pay before you leave.""That's OK, I'll use the bike.""Just as you like. They want you there on Tuesday at ten o'clock."Mrs. Crealey was about to suggest that, with this prestigious new client, a certain formality of dress might be appropriate, but desisted. Mandy was amenable to some suggestions about work or behaviour but never about the eccentric and occasionally bizarre creations with which she expressed her essentially confident and ebullient personality.She asked: "Why Tuesday? Don't they work Mondays?""Don't ask me. All I know is that the girl who rang said Tuesday. Perhaps Miss Etienne can't see you until then. She's one of the directors and she wants to interview you personally. Miss Claudia Etienne. I've written it all down."Mandy said: "What's the big deal, then? Why have I got to be interviewed by the boss?""One of the bosses. They're particular who they get, I suppose. They asked for the best and I'm sending the best. Of course they may be looking for someone permanent, and want to try her out first. Don't let them persuade you to stay on, Mandy, will you?""Have I ever?"Accepting a glass of sweet sherry and curling into one of the easy chairs, Mandy studied the paper. It was certainly odd to be interviewed by a prospective employer before beginning a new job, even when, as now, the client was new to the agency. The usual procedure was well understood by all parties. The harassed employer telephoned Mrs. Crealey for a temporary shorthand-typist, imploring her this time to send a girl who was literate and whose typing speed at least approximated to the standard claimed. Mrs. Crealey, promising miracles of punctuality, efficiency and conscientiousness, despatched whichever of her girls was free and could be cajoled into giving the job a try, hoping that this time the expectations of client and worker might actually coincide. Subsequent complaints were countered by Mrs. Crealey's invariably plaintive response: "I can't understand it. She's got the highest reports from other employers. I'm always being asked for Sharon."The client, made to feel that the disaster was somehow his or her fault, replaced the receiver with a sigh, urged, encouraged, endured until the mutual agony was over and the permanent member of staff returned to a flattering welcome. Mrs. Crealey took her commission, more modest than was charged by most agencies, which probably accounted for her continued existence in business, and the transaction was over until the next epidemic of 'flu or the summer holidays provoked another triumph of hope over experience.Mrs. Crealey said: "You can take Monday off, Mandy, on full pay of course. And better type out your qualifications and experience. Put 'Curriculum Vitae' at the top, that always looks impressive.Mandy's curriculum vitae, and Mandy herself--despite her eccentric appearance--never failed to impress. For this she had to thank her English teacher, Mrs. Chilcroft. Mrs. Chilcroft, facing her class of recalcitrant eleven-year-olds, had said: "You are going to learn to write your own language simply, accurately and with some elegance, and to speak it so that you aren't disadvantaged the moment you open your mouths. If any of you has ambitions above marrying at sixteen and rearing children in a council flat you'll need language. If you've no ambitions beyond being supported by a man or the state you'll need it even more, if only to get the better of the local-authority Social Services department and the DSS. But learn it you will."Mandy could never decide whether she hated or admired Mrs. Chilcroft, but under her inspired if unconventional teaching she had learned to speak English, to write, to spell and to use it confidently and with some grace. Most of the time this was an accomplishment she preferred to pretend she hadn't achieved. She thought, although she never articulated the heresy, that there was little point in being at home in Mrs. Chilcroft's world if she ceased to be accepted in her own. Her literacy was there to be used when necessary, a commercial and occasionally a social asset, to which Mandy added high shorthand-typing speeds and a facility with various types of word processor. Mandy knew herself to be highly employable, but remained faithful to Mrs. Crealey. Apart from the cosy there were obvious advantages in being regarded as indispensable; one could be sure of getting the pick of the jobs. Her male employers occasionally tried to persuade her to take a permanent post, some of them offering inducements which had little to do with annual increments, luncheon vouchers or generous pension contributions. Mandy remained with the Nonesuch Agency, her fidelity rooted in more than material considerations. She occasionally felt for her employer an almost adult compassion. Mrs. Crealey's troubles principally arose from her conviction of the perfidy of men combined with an inability to do without them. Apart from this uncomfortable dichotomy, her life was dominated by a fight to retain the few girls in her stable who were employable, and her war of attrition against her ex-husband, the tax inspector, her bank manager and her office landlord. In all these traumas Mandy was ally, confidante and sympathizer. Where Mrs. Crealey's love-life was concerned this was more from an easy goodwill than from any understanding, since to Mandy's nineteen-year-old mind the possibility that her employer could actually wish to have sex with the elderly--some of them must be at least fifty--and unprepossessing males who occasionally haunted the office, was too bizarre to warrant serious contemplation.After a week of almost continuous rain Tuesday promised to be a fine day with gleams of fitful sunshine shafting through the low clusters of cloud. The ride from Stratford East wasn't long, but Mandy left plenty of time and it was only a quarter to ten when she turned off The Highway, down Garnet Street and along Wapping Wall, then right into Innocent Walk. Reducing speed to a walking pace, she bumped along a wide cobbled cul-de-sac bounded on the north by a ten-foot wall of grey brick and on the south by the three houses which comprised the Peverell Press.At first sight she thought Innocent House disappointing. It was an imposing but unremarkable Georgian house with proportions which she knew rather than felt to be graceful, and it looked little different from the many others she had seen in London's squares or terraces. The front door was closed and she saw no sign of activity behind the four storeys of eight-paned windows, the two lowest ones each with an elegant wrought-iron balcony. On either side was a smaller, less ostentatious house, standing a little distanced and detached like a pair of deferential poor relations. She was now opposite the first of these, number 10, although she could see no sign of numbers 1 to 9, and saw that it was separated from the main building by Innocent Passage, barred from the road by a wrought-iron gate, and obviously used as a parking space for staff cars. But now the gate was open and Mandy saw three men bringing down large cardboard cartons by a hoist from an upper floor and loading them into a small van. One of the three, a swarthy under-sized man wearing a battered bush-ranger's hat, took it off and swept Mandy a low ironic bow. The other two glanced up from their work to regard her with obvious curiosity. Mandy, pushing up her visor, bestowed on all three of them a long discouraging stare.The second of these smaller houses was separated from Innocent House by Innocent Lane. It was here, according to Mrs. Crealey's instructions, that she would find the entrance. She switched off the engine, dismounted and wheeled the bike over the cobbles, looking for the most unobtrusive place in which to park. It was then that she had her first glimpse of the river, a narrow glitter of shivering water under the lightening sky. Parking the Yamaha, she took off her crash-helmet, rummaged for her hat in the side pannier and put it on, and then, with the helmet under her arm, and carrying her tote bag, she walked towards the water as if physically drawn by the strong tug of the tide, the faint evocative sea smell.She found herself on a wide forecourt of gleaming marble bounded by a low railing in delicate wrought iron with at each corner a glass globe supported by entwined dolphins in bronze. From a gap in the middle of the railing a flight of steps led down to the river. She could hear its rhythmic slap against the stone. She walked slowly towards it in a trance of wonder as if she had never seen it before. It shimmered before her, a wide expanse of heaving sun-speckled water which, as she watched, was flicked by the strengthening breeze into a million small waves like a restless inland sea, and then, as the breeze dropped, mysteriously subsided into shining smoothness. And, turning, she saw for the first time the towering wonder of Innocent House, four storeys of coloured marble and golden stone which, as the light changed, seemed subtly to alter colour, brightening, then shading to a deeper gold. The great curved arch of the main entrance was flanked by narrow arched windows and above it were two storeys with wide balconies of carved stone fronting a row of slender marble pillars rising to trefoiled arches. The high arched windows and marble columns extended to a final storey under the parapet of a low roof. She knew none of the architectural details but she had seen houses like this before, on a boisterous ill-conducted school trip to Venice when she was thirteen. The city had left little impression on her beyond the high summer reek of the canal, which had caused the children to hold their noses and scream in simulated disgust, the overcrowded picture galleries and palaces which she was told were remarkable but which looked as if they were about to crumble into the canals. She had seen Venice when she was too young and inadequately prepared. Now, for the first time in her life, looking up at the marvel of lnnocent House, she felt a belated response to that earlier experience, a mixture of awe and joy which surprised and a little frightened her.The trance was broken by a male voice: "Looking for someone?"Turning, she saw a man looking at her through the railings, as if he had risen miraculously from the river. Walking over, she saw that he was standing in the bow of a launch moored to the left of the steps. He was wearing a yachting cap set well back on a mop of black curls and his eyes were bright slits in the weatherbeaten face.

Meet the Author

P. D. James was the author of twenty books, many of which feature her detective hero Adam Dalgliesh and have been televised or filmed. She was the recipient of many honors, including the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award and the National Arts Club Medal of Honor for Literature, and in 1991 was created Baroness James of Holland Park. She died in 2014.

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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Original Sin 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
nprfan1 More than 1 year ago
I don't think there can ever be such a thing as a bad P. D. James mystery. Lady James is just too good a writer to have that happen.

"Original Sin" continues her series featuring the man I consider the world's most erudite policeman (the word "cop" just doesn't apply) - Commander Adam Dalgliesh of New Scotland Yard. This time the scene of the crime is, according to the novel, the oldest publishing house in Britain - Peverell Press.

In this entry in the series, enough red herrings are tossed out that I was thoroughly in the dark until the very end - and then I remembered the actual murderer's alibi in the first killing and wondered how I could have forgotten it.

Sadly, I cannot give this book five stars, but not because of Lady James' usual excellent writing. My review is of the audiobook from Recorded Books, and the narrator needs to improve on his craft. At times, in conversations between two or more characters, I couldn't tell which one was speaking - they sounded almost exactly alike. And other points in the narration were flat and toneless; I almost felt as though I were listening to "Original Sin" as told by Mr. Spock.

I'm willing to give this narrator another chance, but I'm seriously considering getting the actual book for my next P. D. James.
Desert_Sage More than 1 year ago
Sometimes we attach ourselves to new and exciting writers of mystery; however, there is plenty of mystery in Original Sin and I highly recommend it. When murders multiply at a high end publishing house, Adam Dalgliesh finds the culprit(s) after much use of his skills at discernment.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I recently read Original Sin and I was very disappointed in the book. If you like detailed descriptions of characters and physical locations, then you will probably like the the novel. However, if you are looking for a mystery which keeps you wondering/guessing what is going to happen next only to discover that what you had anticipated was wrong; you, like I, will be disappointed. Ms. James is a competent writer capable of delivering prose that is elegant, but to call Original Sin a mystery is a stretch of the imagination.. CondorDC
TheEerieCoterie More than 1 year ago
This is The Eerie Coterie's February "Goremet" selection by our featured author for 2010, P.D. James. I read this book many years ago and it remains one of my personal favorites by James. What I think readers will love the most is that the setting of the murder is a publishing house! This was James' first book after her wonderful "The Children of Men" and it was definately a return to form. It is more than just the writing style, but the nostalgic feel her books have - even though they are contemporary. James writes classical detective stories, which nowadays no one really does and that is a shame. People read detective fiction as a wal to escape real life, which is funny considering there is a terrible murder at its core. With "Original Sin" it starts up with a slow introduction to the spublishing house and its characters and then hits you with the murder!! Visit BN Bookclubs to discuss this book with The Eerie Coterie.
Guest More than 1 year ago
While a fan of P.D. James, this books creates the feeling that the author was off her game a bit. The usually enthralling bits of history that are usually brisk bits that move the plot along were more like long, rambles leading you to a place where you look around and realize you've gone a block too far and nearly become lost. The lack of crispness defeats the bold approach of the overall structure, presenting a landscape of figures and plot information before the crime investigation heats up. On the whole, Original Sin is a tough read, for while the overdense early stages of the book may cause the reader to rush along, you must not, or you lose too much that is important later. A good, tightening edit would have vastly improved this book.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Dire straits has caught up with Peverell Press, financially and mortally. This prestigious London publishing house is sinking fast and the five surviving partners of the venerable old firm have to make some dire choices! In P.D. James¿ ¿Original Sin,¿ we find that justice may really be blind, after all. First, one of the five partners, the managing director, is found dead. What looks like a suicide, however, is not. Superintendent Adam Dalgleish, master that he is, determines that, indeed, it is not suicide, but murder. The suspects are a-plenty, as is motive. At the same time, someone is playing not-so-funny practical jokes around the offices. Another body is found, and the investigation grows. James and Dalgleish are at their best here, and the myriad avenues that the killer (or killers) seem to be taken are not much help. Everything seems so calculated. But Dalgleish soon learns that this case involves a systematic approach and he must expand his investigative horizon, which eventually extends all the way back to World War II France. Hatred, revenge, jealousy--all the ¿evils¿--abound and when the perpetrator is revealed, James does so with control and finesse. Faster paced than normally, this James book is one not easily put down, to coin a phrase.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nither do I to be honest.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im kat ive been here since last christmas. Go to mountain result one or something to see my description.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Maddie tl red head with funny personality britt tall dirty blonde with a scr on her forehead* both : joined in the greek rp at greece results and then moved to pool results thwnto scarlettletter
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Prism- I joined when it was still in the PJ books!!! Sometime in July. 2011. My name is Loyal "Prism" Sonya, and I'm a daughter of Apollo and Athena. I was a goddess back when it wasn't considered godmodding to be one. -3- I have brown hair, glasses, olive skin, and wear a pink shirt under an unzipped hoody and jeans+tennis shoes. I use a huge battle-axe that turns into a leather snap bracelet. I'm goddess of light and creativity. Sparky- I joined Pris sometime in December (2011). We're identical, except I wear a sweater vest, khakis, and loafers. I use a bow and arrows, and, rarely, a one-handed sword. I'm a daughter of Ares.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yo its meh. I've been doing the pj rp since Feburary around Valentines day at the greece results. I am 19/15 (dumb time warp). My full name is Courtney Loranne Zuino. I have a twin brother named Jake(he's annoying) and I am a daughter of Zeus and I have an evil stepmother named Hera. Sometimes i loose my memory cuz of a lethe gas that hit me when I was 15/18. Its not permanent but its pretty bad. I have a three back and i'm very athletic, a rebel, and a tomboy. I have shoulder lengh black hair that has purple streaks going through it. I have eletric blue eyes and a MAJOUR FRECKLE PROBLEM ON MY FACE. My weapons are a silver braclet that my half brother Mike made me that turns into any weapon I need and my luck dagger, Bolter. I have like five gazillion half brothers and like two half sisters. So ya. BAI!!!!