From the back cover:
An intriguing assignment, Cordelia Gray thought, and not a particularly arduous one. The poison pen messages to Clarissa Lyle were to be stopped—or at least deflected—until after the performance of The Duchess of Malfi at Ambrose Gorringe’s private theatre on Courcy Island. It soon becomes apparent however that Clarissa Lyle’s enemy is on the island with her, and Cordelia finds herself trapped in an atmosphere of fear and violence—a violence that is to culminate in a brutal murder…
I really liked the vast majority of The Skull Beneath the Skin. The atmosphere is similar to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, in that a limited number of suspects are staying together on an isolated island, complete with a married pair of somewhat eccentric servants. There were enough creepy or mysterious details to keep the plot moving interestingly, and the characters were well fleshed out, precisely as one would expect from P. D. James. Plus, mysteries with just a few possible killers with whom the protagonist must continue to associate after the act are fun.
Some time after said brutal murder occurs, the narrative focus shifts away from Cordelia to that of the detectives from the town on shore who’ve come to investigate. It’s interesting to learn some details from their interviews, and also to see the way in which they view Cordelia, but I found it a little odd that the protagonist should be absent for such a significant period of time. Eventually, she does regain the spotlight.
I found the whole sequence of events in the conclusion to be somewhat disappointing. A side trip for more nuggets of information bogs down the story, and then some elements of what follows are predictable, though I admit to being surprised by others. It’s not a poor ending, exactly, but for something that started so strongly it’s a bit anticlimactic.