Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Taste for Death by P.D. James

Two men lie in a welter of blood in the Vestry of St Matthew's Church, Paddington. Their throats have been slit brutally with a shaving razor. One of the dead men is Sir Paul Berowne, a recently resigned minister of the crown and the other dead man is a tramp called Harry Mack. Adam Dalgliesh and his newly formed team investigate this mysterious crime, Dalgliesh and his team would have to carry out the investigation with extraordinary prudence because what they will discover hidden in the  secrets of Sir Paul Berowne will be more death and blood.


Phyllis Dorothy James has been writing novels since 1962 and continues to write till date, her latest novel being Death comes to Pemberley, published in 2011. Her novels star the police detective and poet Adam Dalgliesh. She is also the author of "The Children of Men", which has also been successfully adapted on the big screen. Three novels from P.D. James figure in the Top 100 Crime Novels of all time, including A Taste for Death, you can check out this link to see the rest of the list. Although to be honest this is a list of the best crime novels and not mysteries, although murder mysteries are obviously crime novels as well so the line gets blurred . "A Taste for Death" can be categorized as detective fiction and as a murder mystery, but does it really deserve its place among the best mysteries?

No, In my opinion its not even a good crime novel forget about the mystery part. The book is close to 650 pages which is the single biggest factor in the book's downfall. Mysteries or crime novels or detective fiction whatever you want to call it cannot be this long, the reader loses interests and all events, conversation and descriptions seem protracted. The same things get iterated till the reader is bored out of his mind. Something which Christie does in 300 odd pages takes P.D. James 630 +, and there is no comparison between the Queen of crime and P.D. James, its like comparing Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. P.D. James can be compared with somebody who is her contemprory like Colin Dexter, even Dexter used to wrap up his novels in under 400 pages and the mysteries are much better than what P.D. James has produced.

The detective who is called Adam Dalgliesh, has the most prosaic name in all of detective fiction, we have had fictional stalwarts with personalities and idiosyncrasies to match their colorful names like Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Sir Henry Merrivale, Dr Gideon Fell, Inspector Morse, Miss Marple, Byomkesh Bakshi etc . Adam Dalgliesh with no personality sounds more like a construction worker rather than a detective. Dalgliesh is a normal police detective who is also a poet, he does not recite any poetry at least not in this book which makes me think he is a poet like I'm a piano player. The author develops her characters well and often divulges in their personal lives, even the unimportant characters get quite a few pages in the novel. My favorite character in the book is an old lady who is the victim Paul Berowne's mother called Lady Ursula. She is an aristocrat, last of her kind, an iron lady with a strong will and her own sense of right and wrong, the book seem much more readable whenever she was involved.

The mystery is quite pedestrian should you choose to care about it, the identity of the killer becomes obvious half through the book. A mystery cannot be sustained for 600 pages, that is why the author keeps digressing and boring the reader with nano details about rooms, buildings, architecture and people. The good people at Sunday times have written in praise of the book "Compulsive.......heart-pounding suspense", I cannot understand how someone can call this book heart pounding suspense, what did this bearer of encomiums find heart pounding? was it the endless expounded elucidation of architecture and rooms? or was it the mundane boring lives of the characters? maybe it was the silly ideas that people had about others when having a conversation with them.

The book is quite depressing actually, some people would argue life is like that, no life is not like that there are occasional moments of happiness and cheerfulness in everybody's life, also I don't think  that people are as dry, witless and sardonic as it is in this book. Yes, some people are but not everyone and why write such a dry book anyways, there has to be a range of emotions in a book, you can't write a whole book in just a single tone.

Highly exhausted and disappointed with P.D. James, I'm giving this 1.5 out of 5 Stars.

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