Monday, December 5, 2011
A Certain Justice. P.D. James.Penguin Books (1997)
This is a beautifully constructed and engaging crime novel. Venetia Aldridge successfully defends a man against a murder charge. She is poised for another professional advance when her daughter reveals that she has become engaged to the man Venetia has defended, a man Venetia believes to be a murderer. As Venetia tries to prevent the engagement she is found murdered in her office. Commander Adam Dalgliesh investigates the death and discovers that there are multiple suspects and motives. The plot reveals are perfectly staged and the slow, cold unwinding of the story is gripping. The final revelations are stark and satisfying.
This is a purposefully unhurried book; the set up for the murder of Venetia Aldridge is long and extensive. It creates a vivid picture of a proud, compelling and very unpleasant character. Venetia is never monstrous in her dealings, she is hard and unflinching, lacking in any human sympathy to cloak her cold brilliance. When she turns to others for help she reaps a bitter harvest, which does not spare anyone. Her male colleagues are as unsympathetic as Venetia, they have a mixture of small cowardice in them, which her presence magnifies and makes them look shabby by comparison.
P.D. James has written a wonderful modern version of a revengers tale, where the revenge, initially appearing justified becomes a greater outrage than the first offence. With a stubbornly flinty character like Venetia Aldridge, this is a very considerable feat. The plot slowly becomes clear through the investigation of the police team and the terrible consequences of revenge become clear. The cast are wonderfully realised, they are, for the most part, unlikeable, they all possess a clear vigour and individual life. They are not shadows or puppets, they move across each other with force and weight. The impact of the many crimes in the story is forceful and vivid. Written with a tightly controlled ferocity, this sharply and sourly satisfying book is a great read.