Death In Holy Orders : P.D. James

Book    : Death In Holy Orders
Author : PD James
Genre` : Crime Fiction 
Published By : Alfred Knopf
Year     : 2001
Cover   : Insipid
It was the name of the author which enticed me in to buy the book from that ramshackle book stall on a cold evening in Dehradun. There was a chill in the atmosphere and strong gusts of wind were rocking me back n forth making me unsteady on my feet.The rapidly descending evening and the biting cold urged me to be quick and I bought it for my late night ritual of a steaming cup of coffee with a good book.
I was apprehensive as I almost never liked a crime /detective fiction title with the word 'death' in it. For me the title ought to be subtle something like Kalpana Swaminathan's Monochrome Madonna, Sujata Massey's 'The Flower Master' or Agatha Christie's 'They Came to Baghdad' 
The first one was a dud,second interesting and the third captivating.It clearly proves that liking the title has nothing to do with my liking the book but it certainly helps in notching up my respect for the author even if its a bad book.
 And if this rambling  preamble had not put you off ,my review for it will certainly do.
The book was my first PD James.She is revered by many and sought after by almost all crime fiction lovers.No discussion of detectives and crime is ever complete without a mention of his poetic sleuth Adam Dalgleish and I have no objections to it as James indeed is an excellent writer.
She has a spontaneous writing style with such a sharp eye for detail that the book felt like reading a novel of manners drenched  in blood!

Her narration is full,complete to perfection leaving nothing to imagination.She describes a scene with characters, their contours,expressions,gestures,intonations and modulations of voice and all that which, they(the characters) chose not to say ! It includes the surroundings, the time of the day, the shadows,the foliage at that time of the year and the contrast nature presents with the the man made structures.
At times, she is painfully lengthy about the furniture and its arrangement. For me it was not unpleasant but, in the last 50 pages or so it was simply not welcoming to read about the number of square tables small and big,central and near the window, once more.That too,in detail !
 My other and the MAJOR grievance in this book is -The motive for the murder(s) is non-existent. If its there its so lame..
It does not make sense!
And due to it , it felt like a waste of time .Grrrr...
Had it been one of my first books, it would have enriched my imagination and knowledge about a sea facing town/hamlet, about meres and groynes, about the cloisters and courtyards of a Gothic-cum-Victorian mansion,about the birrete and albs,compline, evensongs and other christian rituals and biblical references and about the church-hierarchy and church politics... but as I had read it after 27 springs of my life, it had nothing ground-breaking-new to offer in terms of settings and surroundings except a good whodunit, which it failed to deliver almost completely.sigh!

The story opens with Mrs. Munroe writing her diary entry regarding the death of an ordinand Ronald Treeves of the monastery St. Anselm.The death indicates itself to be an accident or a suicide.A chance occurrence ignites Mrs. Munroe's memory and she remembers somethings from her past and telephoned someone to affirm her memory. It was confirmed positively. She hinted at it in her diary and was murdered the same night. Adam Dalgelish was about to holiday near St. Anselm's and conveniently settles in the monastery to probe about the death of Treeves when another gruesome murder of the visiting Archdeacon took place followed by another one of a priest's sister. 
Adam has to act fast before more blood is spilled on the holy grounds staining it forever and beyond repair...

The book is conveniently divided in three parts-
The Killing Sand
The Death Of an Archdeacon
and Voices From the Past
And despite my grumblings,it does offers vivid imagery of the bleak east coat ,of the small theological college with all prevailing silence unnerving at times, but otherwise providing repose from the charivari of town, beautiful and realistic characterisation (scored full here) and some lines worth reproducing-
Witty one-
"I can imitate you but I can't hope to emulate you"
Quotable one-
"Unwelcome words gained in intensity if softly spoken"

Special Mention - I was intrigued by Dalgliesh.He did not speak more then two paragraphs in whole book but a poet and an intellectual, he seemed different. Though again for my irritation he took too long to solve the crime and that too without zest,charm or even wit. Hopes he gets better in the next. 

My VERDICT
Leave it, if you are a veteran reader of detective fiction and looks for a taut plot with a crisp climax.
You may read if you like nuanced portrayal of cast,settings and situations in a narrative immersed in nature's symbolism.
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25 comments:

  1. Interesting review...
    The book may not be great, but you managed to make the review engaging :)

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    1. Thanks a lot fro being here Nimi ji... I am glad you liked the review :)

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  2. Ah .. P.D. James...I haven't read this one but I liked her " The Children of men " and " Death of an Expert Witness"....have read some more but usually I forget the title of books while I can even recall lines verbatim :-( don't know what this syndrome is called :-P

    You make the review really interesting..... and what can be more inviting than a steaming cup of coffee and a good book (especially a murder mystery ) :-) ....I think you'll go for some more title of James ...though the word 'murder' occurs in some of her titles as far as I can recall :-D

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    1. Even I have heard only rave reviews of her.. guess I started with the wrong one :(
      Thanks for the titles you have read and liked as I can safely read them now :) And that syndrome of yours ..guess it occurs due to toooo much reading when agreeable/new /beautiful/revolting thoughts/ ideas (lines) stuck in mind while forgetting the less important (?) title... :D
      And I agree that 'murder' comes in most of her as well as other mystery writer's titles including Christie...it NEVER affects likes/dislikes... Its just one of my silly whims...the book ought to be titled to kindle intrigue aesthetically. perhaps I pondered too much on the English Exercises where we have to give title and write the main idea of 'unseen passages' in school :P :D

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    2. Hehe..yes..I can recall writing those main ideas from unseen passages and putting an apt title... :-D

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    3. So glad you did that too :) He He :D

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  3. 26 books out of 30 is pretty cool Kokila :).. I am sure you will reach the goal soon. It is interesting that you mention They Came to Baghdad, I loved that by Agatha Cristie and I also loved her The mysterious Mr.Quin.. Quite a fantastic writer.

    I haven't been introduced to James though.. Sounds interesting :)

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    1. Hey Bhagwaan Vinay... this is the 4th time that i am typing this response in last 6 days !! and each tie I type my response changes a bit... :) lets see if this one is accepted by the server or again it will shoe DNS server failure ...Grrr.
      Well I am glad we have a common book the Baghdad one but I still have to read the Mysterious Mr. Quinn. And yes James books are still lucrative to me ... I'll for a view only after 3 more books :) Thanks for visiting Vinay ... I am practicing patience right now :)

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  4. Hello Kokila, I hate to admit it, but I’ve never read P.D.James and after reading your excellent review – I’m glad! I have seen some TV dramas based on the novels, and they are quite good, but I suppose that’s because all the explanations about table placements and so on aren’t necessary.
    Thank you for your recent visits to my blog, I’m really pleased you are enjoying it. It will soon be the weekend; I hope it brings lots of lovely things your way. Barbara x

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    1. It happens with adaptations.. they can make a beautiful book into a mediocre experience and vice -versa.Am glad with James stories its the other way round... Due to time constraint and server problem, I am answering you AFTER the weekend but your wishes worked wonders for me and family :) Thanks for being here :)It means a lot to me.

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  5. That is quite an interesting verdict there - got a feeling I am going to like this author :D
    I would always prefer "murder" instead of "death" in the case of titles of such books ;)

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    1. I can vividly see the Vampire Owl and the Vampire bat jesting and cracking jokes about it ..... seriously Teny, you will certainly like it... will provide you much to tear it apart with your claws of flaw and allow lot(s) of soul exploration as well :) And yes, murder is better then death but why not mention anything at alll and let the readers get the jolt? Tell.

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  6. Very nice review Kokila. Why nice... Well because you have clearly mentioned what you liked and didn't like about it. In two minds to pick it or not. The start about bookstall in chilly dehradun reminded me of a scene from the movie Saajan. But you know me... Don't you.

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    1. Thanks Shweta ... I was smiling while reading your comment ... you are one of the rare pieces, the unique ones and I am SO glad that I know You :) ... to get reminded of Saajan... seriously Shweta ... you made the lines special for me also :) :P felt a sudden desire to meet you personally ...... some day :)
      PS. don't pick it... the motive is lacking.

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  7. Nice review. I haven't read James yet though I love the detective kind. I love Agatha Christie from the ones you have mentioned. Dehradun instantly brought Ruskin Bond to mind; love his work.

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    1. great to know Deepa you are interested in detective fiction.... Agatha Christie is like goddess... and yes you ahve made the right connection.. Dehradun-Mussoorie is synonyms with India's True and only Bond- Ruskinn Bond . Love him and his works.

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  8. Detective and crime stories are not actually my cup of tea,But your review is persuading me to give a try..:) Lovely post Kokila :)

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    1. Nagini I am glad you liked the review despite not liking the detective stories .But when written by great writers, they can be easily called as Mini - Classics ........but then again, writing is of utmost importance as it takes a shrewd observer and a rational intellect to make them classic.

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  9. I have never read P.D. James, and I don't think I will. Great review.

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    1. lol... Kiran the way you have put it... its one great comment ! :D

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  10. I have never read P.D. James .. but review seems interesting !

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  11. You reviewed a book badly. I don't think this has happened before :P.

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