When the book was written in 1962, the world was a different place, and that was what I found most interesting in this book (unfortunately, that doesn't mean this was an interesting book worth reading). World War II had ended just 17 years earlier. A World War 1 veteran, though elderly, is still active. All the English elite are very proper, conforming their rigid stations in life, living up to the expectations of society. Sally Jupp is an unwed mother, a very shocking thing indeed in those days. The rich Maxie household takes her on as a servant girl as an act of charity, but Sally does not act grateful. Indeed, at the fete, Sally is seen wearing a dress that clearly is meant to imitate Deborah Maxie's dress! How shocking! How vulgar! Sally is a sassy, pretty girl, and apparently this attacts Stephen Maxie, the son who is a successful doctor - at the family dinner after the fete, Sally surprises everyone with an announcement to the family that Stephen has asked her to marry! The next morning Sally is found dead, clearly she has been strangled. The door to her room is locked, a ladder leans against the wall beneath her window. Whodunnit?
Enter Inspector Dalgliesh from Scotland Yard. He must be quite a character, because he is apparently also the hero in The Lighthouse, written 43 years later. Unfortunately, in this first novel there is zero development of Dalgliesh as a character. Dalgliesh is there to ask questions, an unemotional "nothing but the facts" approach, James does not let us hear what he is thinking as the case unfolds and the clues are examined. There is no portrayal of Dalgliesh as a person or what his history is, or much emotion at all. The story is definitely not about Inspector Dalgliesh, but instead about the Maxie household and various suspects from the village. Unfortunately, none of the Maxie household is a likable character. Maybe I just can't relate to the 1962 English society. If this book had been thicker, I may not have finished it, it just isn't that interesting. Perhaps The Lighthouse is still worth reading, after all, a writer can develop a lot in 40 years. But skip this book, it has not aged well.