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The Lighthouse: An Adam Dalgliesh Mystery    by P. D. James order for
by P. D. James
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, Audio, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This is P. D. James's nineteenth book, and she maintains the high quality of this police procedural series, her writing and plotting skills in no way diminished by the fact that she turned eighty-five in 2005. Rather, she builds on the experience of a long and eventful life to populate her mystery with interesting characters.

James often sets her stories in closed communities, a museum in her previous mystery, The Murder Room. This creates interesting resonances of Agatha Christie tales of murders in stately mansions. This time, the killing takes place in a lighthouse on the secluded (but fictional) Combe Island off Cornwall. The aristocraticic Holcombe family that once owned it have set up a charitable trust to maintain Combe 'as a place of rest and seclusion for men in positions of responsibility'. The island is being considered by the PM as the location for a top-secret international meeting, so that when a suspicious death occurs, the authorities quickly helicopter in Commander Adam Dalgliesh and his team.

An exhausted Dalgliesh had been looking forward to spending time with Emma Lavenham, and perhaps pressing her to set a wedding date. Inspector Kate Miskin had just spent a surprising evening and night with ex-colleague Pers Tarrant, who now works for the anti-terrorist branch. And Sergeant Francis Benton-Smith is enthusiastic about tackling the challenge of a new case. The victim is a bestselling author, Nathan Oliver, whom it seems that everyone on the island disliked, usually for very good reasons. Another guest had sent him a note (to which several people had access), arranging an early morning meeting at the lighthouse. Those on the island include Oliver's daughter and secretary, the elderly Emily Holcombe, a lawyer, doctor and clergyman, and various members of staff. Most are staying in scattered cottages.

Well into the story, it seems like a standard procedural, albeit in an unusual (and beautifully described) setting. Then the author throws a spanner in the works that gives Kate a front and center role, and forces her into a close and active partnership with Benton-Smith, in which they both shine. As always, James's plotting is masterful and she surprised me with the killer's motivation and identity. The Lighthouse is a must read for Anglophile mystery lovers.

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