The Lighthouse by P D James seems to have been one of the big hit novels of
2005, so of course it was unavailable at the library. I decided to check out a different P D James
novel, just to see what the fuss was about, since I had not previously read any of her books.
What better place to start than at the beginning? Cover Her Face is the first book James wrote, the
copyright is 1962!
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 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 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.