I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
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.
Very reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s work. P.D. James really does demonstrate the same mystery writing skills that Christie did. She lays out the crime and all the various suspects and then sets Dalgleish and Martin among them to sort things out. Two police cats amongst the psychiatric pigeons. Just like Poirot, Dalgleish is able to see through the clutter to the heart of things. Unlike Poirot, he is able to do so without being annoyingly self-satisfied.
Perhaps because I just recently read Christie’s They Do It with Mirrors, set in a juvenile reform school, this novel seemed similar. In fact, they were written within a few years of each other and share the institutional settings and “closed room” aspects to the stories. James throws plenty of details of the psychiatric setting at the reader, using them as distractions from the usual motivations for murder.
As I said when I reviewed the first Dalgleish novel, I see this detective as one of the sources of one of my favourite policemen, Armand Gamache, Louise Penny’s main character. Which reminds me, I need to track down the next book in that series too.