I doubt this is James’ best, but it was a good place to start. 3.5/5.
The blurb: When the administrative head of the Steen Psychiatric Clinic is found dead with a chisel in her heart, Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard is called in to investigate. Dalgliesh must analyze the deep-seated anxieties and thwarted desires of patients and staff alike to determine which of their unresolved conflicts resulted in murder.
I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting from P. D. James… perhaps something more spectacular? Anyway, this is a perfectly well-written detective story. In fact, it reminded me of the two Poirot stories I’ve read, although the detective in this case – Dalgliesh – isn’t as much of a “character” as Christie’s Belgian sleuth. In fact, he’s practically personality-free, which isn’t a bad thing, as it means the focus is on the “whodunnit” aspect of the book.
And if you want a “whodunnit” then this story is a “paint by numbers” example of the genre. A character none of the other like much is found dead a few pages from the beginning. The suspects are a reduced group. The detective comes and interviews them all. Then they all go home and we get to learn a bit more about them and start to swell on who we reckon did it. The detective starts to narrow in on the killer, they do something daft and get caught and then there’s a final twist.
As you may gather from that summary, there’s nothing particularly remarkable about A Murder in Mind. However, it’s a solid murder mystery. None of the characters are particularly likeable, but then they don’t set your teeth on edge either. They’re all believable and you also believe in the motive and actions of the killer (or killers? No spoilers here!).
And, for what it is, it’s a good length. My edition was only 240 pages, which felt right. There was no need to drag the story out further or it might have started to become dull.
Overall: fans of a good whodunnit will appreciate this well-constructed tale. I’m glad I finally made the effort to read something by P. D. James and look forward to reading more of her work. Any recommendations?
Claire Huston / Art and Soul