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Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Murder Room

The Murder Room, P.D. James’ twelfth of thirteen mysteries featuring Scotland Yard’s Commander Adam Dalgliesh, is a satisfying addition to that character-driven series. For me, the main attraction to a P.D. James mystery has always been the way her excellent understanding of human psychology allows her to populate each of her novels with so many believable characters. That talent usually complicates her mysteries and keeps readers turning pages all the way to the end and, despite the fact that I listened to this one instead of reading it, The Murder Room was no exception.

In London, a city filled with world-class museums, a tiny museum like the Dupayne can easily slip through the crack and, in fact, this one has. Devoted exclusively to the “interwar years” of England, the lull between world wars with which she was blessed from 1919 to 1939, the Dupayne specializes in rare first editions and artwork of the period. But over time its main attraction has come to be a room everyone calls the “Murder Room,” a space devoted exclusively to the sensational murders of those particular days. The room is filled with exhibits detailing the murders, including pictures of victims and murderers alike, and the few visitors who find their way to the Dupayne seem to spend most of their time there.

But these are tough times for the Dupayne and the three Dupayne siblings to whom it belongs. It is time for them to decide whether or not to keep the museum open, a decision requiring the unanimous consent of the two brothers and their sister, and one that is starting to seem more and more unlikely to be reached because Dr. Neville Dupayne hates the very thought of the museum’s existence and cannot wait to see it closed forever.

When Neville Dupayne is found murdered in a manner similar to one of the more spectacular murders featured in the museum’s “Murder Room,” Dalgliesh and his team are assigned to investigate. They learn soon enough of the animosity between Neville and his brother and sister, who seem desperate to keep the museum open, but those are only two of several people they interview who might have wanted to see Neville Dupayne dead. By refusing to continue the Dupayne Museum, Neville Dupayne was in the process of throwing people out of jobs, and even out of living quarters, so it was obvious that this cold natured man had enough enemies to complicate any investigation into his death.

And things do get complicated when a second murder, which appears to be another copycat murder based on information found in the “Murder Room,” is discovered at the museum. The Murder Room is likely keep most readers guessing right up to the point the murderer is revealed – and beyond, because of the romance with which James closes this chapter of Dalgliesh’s story.

The audio version of The Murder Room is read by Charles Keating who is a master of British accents. His use of multiple accents and voice inflections makes the characters easy to distinguish from one another and was, I think, particularly effective in creating one of my favorite P.D. James characters of all-time, Tally, the lonely caretaker who lives in a small cottage behind the museum. Readers who have the time, and who enjoy audio books, would do themselves a favor to listen to this one rather than reading it. This was fun.

Rated at: 4.0

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