The Murder Room, P.D. James, 2004
P. D. James' mystery novels are drenched in history, atmosphere and ambiance and the locations of her stories often inspire the criminal intent that drives her mysteries to their shocking conclusions.
In The Murder Room, the conflict between Victorian primness and present day proclivities begins in an esoteric museum near London's Hampstead Heath. The Dupayne Museum focuses on the ‘between the wars' period (1919 to 1939) where unique societal changes transformed British society.
Overlooked and under-visited, the Dupayne is something of a relic itself and seems as musty and out-of-fashion as an elderly aunt's embroidered linen handkerchief. Yet, the museum's exhibits are so incredibly quirky that there is something strangely fascinating in its obscure collections. Most intriguing is an entire gallery devoted to notorious deaths ... the Murder Room.
Controlled by three members of the Dupayne family, the future of the museum is in jeopardy. Torn by loyalties to the past and conflicting desires for their own unscrupulous futures, the Dupayne brothers, Neville and Marcus, and their sister Caroline are locked in battle of wills.
This uneasy triad that composes the museum's board of directors and they have reached a stalemate. Neville wants to close the museum. The sooner the better. His siblings strongly disagree and, along with a handful of loyal staff and volunteers, vow to keep the Dupayne operational at any cost. The terms of the museum trust, however, dictate that only a unanimous vote by the three Dupaynes can ensure that the museum remains open and Neville is vowing to use his veto power to immediately shut its doors. With a family dynamic like this ... death is certainly not going to arrive unexpectedly.
P.D. James' poet-detective Adam Dalgliesh is a stoic and solitary man. He heads up a special investigation unit at MI5, charged with handing politically sensitive cases. As the novel begins, Dalgleish makes a chance visit to the Dupayne with a longtime friend. Who could guess that on his next visit, Dalgleish would be summoned to solve a hideous murder?
The Murder Room wallops the reader with multiple murders that come with almost every new chapter. Not surprisingly, Neville Dupayne is the book's first victim ... burnt to a crisp in the garage of the Dupayne Museum.
Aided by his trusted team from New Scotland Yard, Kate Mirskin and Piers Tarrant, Adam Dalgliesh uncovers plenty of family secrets and numerous suspects along the way. Brutal murders seem to roll like thunder across the grounds and through the exhibit halls of the Dupayne.
One question lingers. Why has Dalgliesh been ordered to investigate this string of murders in the first place? Of course, burning a man alive is a horrific crime but Dalgliesh is usually only assigned to murders that have to do with 'special circumstances'. The stuffy Dupayne Museum certainly doesn't seem a likely site of political intrigue, or does it?
Read our biography of P.D. James.