Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The Skull Beneath the Skin

I lucked upon a PD James mystery at my local coffee shop - The Skull Beneath the Skin - and it was a a fabulous diversion.  I'm becoming a real mystery-lover.  I mean, like, I want to move to England, live in a cottage decorated only with tartans, and read mystery novels while sipping tea all. Day.  Long. 

But, who wouldn't?  Amirite? 

This is a classic mystery novel, in the footsteps of Agatha Cristie (if I'm not mistaken, there was even a quote from And Then There Were None although I'm too lazy to verify.)  On a private island off the coast of Dorset, a man invites some folks to his castle and, well...  I hate to ruin anything.  James had me guessing until the very end (I'm talking like, last 30 out of 416 pages). 

The Skull Beneath the Skin was published in 1982 and I think also takes place in the early 80s - it was a bit difficult to tell and frankly might have mentioned the year somewhere and I didn't pick it up.  It really could have taken place in just about any time period as the location and the characters avoid most modern conveniences.  To me, that's a telling quality in a mystery novel, because it's very boring to read them and think the whole time, "If they only had a cell phone!"

The protagonist is Cordelia Grey, the owner of a detective agency that seems to specialize in finding lost pets.  She's very thoughtful and thorough.  The pet-thing is very funny.  Apparently she's also in An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, for which I'll be on the look-out.  Her hero, Adam Dalgliesh, makes not so much an appearance but a quick reference or two, which will cause heart of the PD James' fans to trill a bit.

James uses the phrase "poison pen" (must be an British saying?) to describe a nasty letter writer - Dorothy Sayers also centers her Gaudy Night around this conceit, so I couldn't help but think of that great mystery novel frequently (also English, also with a lady detective). 

By the way, I generally try to find the cover matching the one I read for my blog, out of some sense of continuity, but I couldn't find my exact one - and I thought these were both quite amusing. 

If you're looking for a great mystery, I really don't think you can go wrong with this one - it's an engaging read!

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