P. D. James

Devices and Desires

""Her characters and scenery are second to none." "


When Commander Adam Dalgliesh visits Larksoken, a remote headland community on the Norfolk coast in the shadow of a nuclear power station, he expects to be engaged only in the sad business of tying up his aunt's estate. A serial killer known as the Whistler is terrorising the neighbourhood and Dalgliesh is drawn into the lives of the headlanders when it quickly becomes apparent that the Whistler isn't the only murderer at work under the sinister shadow of the power station.

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I remember reading this back in 1989 and being underwhelmed by it. To be honest, coming back to it thirty-one years later I really couldn't remember much about it, not even the identity of the killer. Reading it now I can appreciate James' sense of place. She is so adept at painting the portrait of this Norfolk coast with the past, present and future embodied in the abbey ruins that look out over the nuclear power station. Remember this was the 80s when there were protests at Greenham Common and the infamous women's camp. James shies away from such demonstrations. People really got invested in nuclear armament. Anyway, back to the story… As I progressed, I realised why this offering from James left me cold back in the day. Although Dalgliesh is visible, he is on holiday and out of his jurisdiction, so he is not involved in the actual investigation, although there are some token gestures as to his opinion. I felt the solution not particularly strong and was a little rushed. However, James' writing is always sublime and is so here. Her characters and scenery are second to none. Each person has their backstory and arrives fully formed and the Norfolk coast was so crystal clear I felt I could feel the tide of the cold sea rush across my toes. Maybe not James' best, but even her second best is a lot more than many writers could hope to achieve.

Reviewed By:

Chris Simmons