The Lighthouse


P. D. James


Mystery / Thriller


Date Reviewed:

February 3, 2007

he Lighthouse is the 13th installment in a series of detective stories about Inspector Adam Dalgliesh. I have now read the first and most recent book in the series, but none of the intervening stories. The Lighthouse was a big best seller when it came out, so I was interested in the story. Frankly, I donít see what the excitement is all about.

The Lighthouseis a murder mystery story set on the offshore island of Combe. Combe is used as a retreat for VIPs from the hubbub of English society. The big cheese folks can spend a few days or weeks getting away from cellular phones, meetings, etc. One of the men visiting the island is world famous author Nathan Oliver. Oliver is uniformly unpleasant person, so pretty much everyone on the island has ample reason to hate him. So when Oliverís body is found hanging from the lighthouse, and when forensic expert determines it is not suicide, pretty much everyone on the island is a suspect, because they all have reason to hate him.

Dalgliesh rides a helicopter to Combe Island along with Detective Inspector Kate Miskin, and the ultra -competent Sergeant Francis Benton-Smith. They interview everyone on the island. This is the finest part of the novel - P. D. James does a terrific job of creating her characters, bringing them to life in their interviews. Each character seemingly has a good reason for wanting Oliver dead, and no one has a convincing alibi. I liked the way James made each one seem suspicious, they all looked guilty! My guess as to the identity of the villan was incorrect.

The disappointing part of the book is how understated everything is. It lacks drama and suspense. The interviews are great as character sketches, but I donít think this would translate well to a movie - there just isnít that much happening.

Because this book is part of a series, a few chapters are devoted to the personal life of Dagliesh, Kate and Benton-Smith. Since I am not an avid fan of the series, these chapters only slowed down the story. One chapter is told from the point of view of Emily, Daglieshís love interest back in London - this has nothing to do with the plot, but I guess it advances the character of Dagliesh for the fans of the series.

I seemed odd to me that everyone is always ringing for breakfast, or waiting for servants to clear the dishes or deliver sandwiches for tea. Does modern England still have that many servants waiting on the upper class, or was that just because the story was set in an exclusive retreat?

P.D. James can tell a nice story, clearly she excels at character creation. I turned the pages of the Lighthouse quickly enough. But donít expect blockbuster suspense or fiendish plot twists. I didn't read anything that would justify bestseller status. Maybe I should read her Children of Men, which was just recently released as a movie - it must have at least a few dramatic scenes if it made it to the silver screen.