I was aware of P.D. James because I’d caught one or two of the episodes of the Inspector Dalgleish series on Masterpiece Mystery, but never bothered pursuing her books. I think, at the time, I’d been growing weary of Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley series and felt it would be more of the same. Then, at a book sale, I picked up one of her earliest mysteries—Cover Her Face—with her first sleuth, young female detective Cordelia Gray, and found it a refreshing change.
James is a good writer, from the penetrating characterization to the careful descriptions of setting and mood. There’s only one other Cordelia Gray book (which I haven’t read yet), but I’ve continued to grab the Inspector Dalgleish books when they come my way at book sales. So, of course, I’m completely out of sequence, which isn’t a problem with the crucible of each mystery, but is a bit jarring for keeping up with the continuing characters.
When I began Original Sin, I kept wondering if I’d read it before, because there’s a similar scene about a murder exhibit in The Murder Room. (But this one is at the Cadaver Club—not the DuPayne Museum.) Yet I knew I would have remembered the wonderful descriptions of Innocent House (the remarkable edifice where the first—or second?—murder occurs) as it’s glimpsed by various characters for the first time. This is D. I. Kate Miskin’s first impression of the interior (which also speaks volumes about her character):
The little group passed through the open doorway into the hall. Kate gave a silent gasp of admiration. For a second her step halted, but she resisted the temptation to let her eyes too obviously range. The police were always invaders of privacy; it was offensive to act as if she were a paying tourist. But it seemed to her that in that one moment of revelation she was aware simultaneously of every detail of the hall’s magnificence, the intricate segments of the marble floor, the six mottled marble pillars with their elegantly carved capitals, the richness of the painted ceiling, a gleaming panorama of eighteenth-century London, bridges, spires, towers, houses, masted ships, the whole unified by the blue reaches of the river, the elegant double staircase, the balustrade curving down to end in bronzes of laughing boys riding dolphins and holding aloft great globed lamps. As they mounted the magnificence was less intrusive, the decorative detail more restrained, but it was through dignity, proportion and elegance that they moved purposefully upwards to the dark desecration of murder.
A well-crafted paragraph, indeed.