The Lighthouse – P. D. James

To have an investigation starting about half way through a novel is an unusual occurrence, but this is P. D. James writing.  We open with a body and an impending investigation; with Commander Dalgliesh putting together his team, at the same time as dealing with the political ramifications of the suspicious death.  Then we learn more about his team and the suspects.  A lot of this is back story, but it is no way boring.  The heavy cloak of claustrophobia is present from the first moment and seeking relief.  The icy tension of soured relationships is ever present, with so many having a motive to wish for the death of the victim.  But who did it?

Dalgliesh has a relatively new team.  DI Kate Miskin is joined by the new-to-the-team Sergeant Benton and she’s not comfortable.  Neither is he.  Both are preoccupied with their personal lives and could do without the investigation based on the secluded and reclusive fictional Combe island off the coast of Cornwall.  But then, so is Dalgliesh, truth be said.  He recently proposed, in writing, to his beloved Emma.  She seemed to accept, but developments since have not been speedy and both appear wary of cementing that commitment.

As for the suspects, we have a group who all have their own reasons for seeking sanctuary on the island from the hard edged and fast paced world in which we live.  The victim was a sad and nasty piece of work, so it may be difficult to care, but no.  The potential motives of the suspects spark that care.  It’s so easy to empathise and hope it’s not that particular one.

There’s a wonderful ending to the investigation, which evoked quite some laughter from me.  I’m not sure it was intentional, but it’s to do with making an arrest and being properly dressed for it.  Also worthy of note is a description of scaling and climbing the cliffs of the island.  That was extremely tense and very realistic.

I so wanted to skip to the end and find out the resolution, from very early on, but I disciplined myself, and I’m glad I did.

The clues were there in the interviews.  Dalgliesh, even inflicted with a nasty virus, worked it out.  I didn’t, which is very good.  As for leaving the heavy cloak of that claustrophobic Combe Island, I’m sure I was as relieved and satisfied as the police team.

Will they?  Won’t they?  We do find out about the future of the poetic Dalgliesh and his beloved Emma in the end.  But I am not about to spoil your fun.  Read it and find out for yourself.  It’s a really good mystery, well investigated and well brought to a conclusion.

Having heard P. D. James speak at the Cheltenham Festival, I can only reiterate what others said to me at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival in July – she really is a wonderful speaker.  At Harrogate in 2006, she is the UK Guest of Honour.  If you can do so, then go.  There are very few opportunities like this. Some have been aware for some time, others not, but a person with 85 years on this planet has a great deal of experience to impart.  Hearing mere snippets of such a life is a treasure.  Life changes in many ways, but the basics of human existence do not.   I believe this is something P. D. James knows only too well and it is ever present in her writing.

And so good to see The Lighthouse in the top ten, and holding, in hard back book sales in the UK.  Quality still counts.

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