Book Review: Death in Holy Orders

I love the writers from the “Golden Age” of detective fiction, like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. P.D. James is a more modern (but still British) writer who has been compared to them, so I decided to give one of her books a try. This one features her detective, Adam Dalgliesh, investigating the mysterious death of a student at an Anglo-Catholic theological college on the remote East Anglian coast. Before he is there very long, an even more mysterious death takes place, and his investigation takes on more urgency. In the end, a conspiracy comes to light, and Dalgliesh is able to apprehend the murderer.

Considering my interest in both murder mysteries and theology, I thought that I would really enjoy this book. And it is true that it got off to a very promising start. Also, James was very good at describing the scene in a way that put her readers there, and her presentation of the psychology of her characters was quite good. But for me, the plot moved too slowly, and the conclusion was ultimately unsatisfying. There was no chase, no sense of a race against time—even the capture of the murderer was a bit anticlimactic. I didn’t find myself heavily invested in the outcome, and didn’t find myself caring about the characters. It may be that this book is more “realistic” than the older mystery novels that I like so well, but I don’t read mystery novels for realism. I read them because they are a puzzle to be solved, and because they pit good against evil in clearly recognizable ways. I didn’t get that out of this book. I will probably give James another chance, though.

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