Venetia Aldridge is a criminal lawyer of large talents and small personal charm, working at a venerable London firm. As she tries to save a young lower-class tough who is accused of murdering his prostitute aunt, it is revealed that she is in a position to ruin a number of professional lives, and is of precisely the temperament to do it. When she is found dead—discovered in her locked chambers in a particularly gruesome tableau—Dalgliesh guides his staff through the interviews that unweave the tangled web of multiple deceit and mixed motive.
This was the best P. D. James I have read in a long time. I’m actually kind of hard-pressed to think of which was last this good. A Taste for Death, perhaps? It had a flawed but admirable victim, just the right amount of small little clues that one forgets until the end when they suddenly make sense, a mystery that one didn’t even know was a mystery ’til it was solved, much more Dalgliesh point-of-view than her last effort, and some new character types that reminded me a lot of Ruth Rendell’s A Sight for Sore Eyes (in a good way). On top of that, there’s thoughtful commentary on the English justice system and the burden of proof.
I would even consider giving the book an A+ were it not for the fact that there are a few obvious similarities to Original Sin, the book immediately preceding this one in the series. Some peculiarities about the condition of the body, the speculation it provokes, the method to narrow time of death, and one character’s possible motive all have parallels in the earlier work. They are used to much better effect here, however, and are not so crucial as to render the entire novel in any way derivative.
Although there are references to some backstory with Dalgliesh and his team, I think this would do alright as a stand-alone, and exhibits some of James’ finest storytelling.