This isn’t one of James’ best works. The set-up of the crime—the murder of Queen’s Counsel Venetia Aldridge—is particularly repugnant, involving as it does her successful defense of Ashe, a vicious murderer with a salacious past. And the twist of placing the symbolic lawyer’s wig on Venetia’s dead body, then covering it with blood, is over the top. James doesn’t spend her usual time analyzing her characters; they all feel somewhat contrived. And the long, confessional letter from the vengeful (but not murderous) cleaning lady is in James’ own narrative style, complete with quoted conversations—a bit much to swallow, even if the character was formerly an English teacher. Perhaps I’ve just read too many of her books, too close together: my own fault—and one that has turned me off to other crime series, such as Elizabeth George’s.
But James is still a much better writer than George. Here she describes the seedy motel that Octavia, Venetia’s daughter, is forced to stay in:
There was no one behind the desk as she entered the lobby, which was small with a mean fireplace, the grate filled with a large vase of dried flowers. Above the mantelpiece was a vast oil of an eighteenth-century sea battle, the paint so grimy that little of the scene was decipherable except the lurching ships and small puffballs of smoke from their guns. The few remaining pictures were animal and child prints of a revolting sentimentality. A high rail running the length of each wall held a display of plates which looked like the relics of smashed dinner services.
Don’t you love how she assumes you share her disdain for prints of “revolting sentimentality”? In that way, she reminds me of Austen.