The Lighthouse by P. D. James: A-

From the back cover:
Combe Island off the Cornish coast of England has a bloodstained history of piracy and cruelty. Owned for centuries by the same family, it now serves as a place where over-stressed men and women in positions of high authority can come to find serenity in conditions of guaranteed security. But when one of its distinguished visitors is found hanging from Combe’s famous lighthouse, an apparent murder victim, the peace of the island is shattered.

What an improvement over The Murder Room. Although the mystery is a good one, and the atmosphere of the island (both threatening and peaceful) is skillfully rendered, it’s the development of the members of the investigative squad that I liked best.

I still don’t completely buy Dalgliesh’s relationship, though I cannot precisely say why. I did love Inspector Miskin’s reaction to it, however, and the thoughts and decisions it prompted her to consider and to make. When Dalgliesh is sidelined by illness, responsibility for the case shifts to his team, and that’s where things truly take off. As Miskin takes up the challenge of the lead role in the investigation, I was instantly more invested for her own personal and professional sake. Learning more about the personality and abilities of Sergeant Benton-Smith was also a boon.

The solution to the mystery is rather lackluster, bearing too much in common with another recent book in the series. I would’ve been more put out except for the fact that the novel seems to clearly be about the investigators, and not the crime.

It seems possible this might be the final Dalgliesh novel, with the man himself poised on the threshold of marriage, Kate with renewed spirit and new possibilities of her own, and Benton-Smith fitting in with the group and establishing himself as someone who’ll go places. If this is the end, then I’d be very satisfied.

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  1. I hadn’t heard it was the final one, but PD James is really freakin’ old, so if it’s not the last, the odds are that the next one probably will be. I’m impressed that she can still write at her age — mysteries require a very sharp mind to do a good job with.

  2. Yeah, I looked yesterday and she’s 86! Maybe she has a bit of trouble coming up with entirely new ideas, but the writing is always well done.

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