Wednesday, October 27, 2010


P. D. James
Ballantine 2001

St. Anselm's, an elite theological college, inhabits the foreboding coast of East Anglia. The sea is eating the coast, eroding the cliffs. One day, St. Anselm's will be in the sea, like the village before it.

One of the school's ordinands is found smothered by sand when a cliff above him collapses. He is the son of a powerful businessman, used to getting his way. Not satisfied that his son either accidentally met his death or that he pulled the sand down on top of himself to commit suicide, he requests that Commander Adam Dalgliesh investigate. Dalgliesh is scheduled to go on vacation and is happy at the chance to visit a place where he spent many boyhood summers at the school.

Complicating things, the Church of England is on the verge of voting to close down the high church college as their teachings are not in accordance with the teachings of other theological colleges. Right away, Dalgliesh can find little to suggest murder, until a sacrilegious murder is committed in the holy chapel. Afterward, Dalgliesh is drawn into a complex plot of psychological horror which tears the college apart and plays into the hands of the church's hierarchy.

James has written so many marvelous novels, one can be expected to fall short of perfection. Death in Holy Orders is slow, but not slower than many. The plot is rich, but not as rich as many. However, this is pure James, the master of layering passion and suspense - past upon present, evil upon good, setting upon character.

Gerrie Ferris Finger