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2015 Reading Challenge category: Popular author’s first book

Synopsis: St Cedd’s Church fete has been held in the grounds of Martingale manor house for generations. In addition to organising the event, Mrs Maxie also has to contend with the news of her son’s sudden engagement to her new parlour maid, Sally Jupp. On the following morning, Sally’s body is discovered and Detective Chief Inspector Adam Dalgliesh must delve into the complicated passions beneath the calm surface of English village life.

Me: I’ve only read one PD James novel before and that was her ‘sequel’ to Pride & Prejudice titled Death Comes to Pemberley. I didn’t quite like that so was interested in her normal environment. This novel is her first and looking at some other reviews they all seem to say that she improves greatly with later works and that I should have read ones of those first which I found quite interesting. I imagine that could be said for many authors.

For me it was ok. It flowed well and read quite quickly. I kept reading Mrs Riscoes’ voice as that of Lady Mary in Downton Abbey but that’s the style the book was written in; of a time when the great families were dying out but still desperately trying to cling onto past glories. The dead girl’s behaviour I found baffling. Despite explanations I never quite understood the game she had been playing with everyone but again some of it may be linked to the time and attitudes during the book was written.

My biggest bugbear was the constant switch of third person narratives. Swapping during each chapter is fine but in this books James often flip flops viewpoints each paragraph. It’s not for me but others may like the style.

I do like the old style detective novels though where a crime is solved by deduction and thinking rather than today’s reliance on technology so this fits quite nicely into that. I think I will do as other reviewers suggest and try one of her later works and see how she evolves.