The Lighthouse By P D James
Coming home from a recent trip west to visit family, I discovered I’d already read the book I planned to read on the plane. In a panic, I made a quick dash to the tiny bookshop in the Vancouver airport. There wasn't a lot of choice - some good books I'd already read - some true junk - and only one paperback I thought would provide an escape for a few hours - The Lighthouse by P. D. James. Although I had read each one of her earlier books as it was published year after year, I had not read the most recent books by this author. I think I had become tired of the lack of progress in the life of her hero, Adam Dalgliesh. Now after a lengthy gap I was quite happy to get to know Commander Adam Dalgliesh again and thoroughly enjoyed an escape to the fictional island of Combe, just off the coast of England. This is an isolated island, privately owned, a retreat for the rich and famous - used more by heads of state and corporations than celebrities. It is a place to spend time in contemplation and, or, recovery. Nathan Oliver, having been born on the island has unlimited access for his lifetime. He visits quarterly, along with his daughter and his assistant. He is on the island now along with a few other guests and a permanent staff, including a doctor and a priest. Most of the staff has been there for many years, along with Emily Holcombe, the last remaining family member of the original owners of the island. When Nathan Oliver is found hanging from the lighthouse, Adam Dalgliesh and two of his staff are literally dropped on to Combe Island to investigate. This is considered a suspicious death - and we discover that there are many on the island that have reason to dislike Nathan Oliver. The isolation of the island contains the characters and the action, much like the traditional snow bound country mansion in any number of mystery novels.
As it becomes more and more unlikely that there is no outsider involved, the investigation focuses on those in residence on the island. Since Oliver has often visited the island he is well-known to the staff and permanent residents, and may have been known by the other guests as well. Even his daughter and his assistant may have had reason to wish him dead. Oliver made a habit of using the stories of the people in his life for the characters in his novels, without regard for their emotions or welfare. He had made many enemies during his long career.
P.D. James always deals very sensitively with the reality of murder. She portrays it as the tragedy that it is, through the eyes and actions of Adam Dalgliesh; she acknowledges the tragedy of the death of the victim and the distress and grief of the survivors.
Commander Adam Dalgliesh is accompanied by Detective Inspector Kate Miskin and Sergeant Francis Benton-Smith. Kate has worked with Dalgliesh before and we have met her in earlier novels. She is now much more able to put her difficult past behind her, and to see more clearly that, in fact, she will be able to make a satisfying life for herself, both professionally and personally. Benton-Smith is young, affluent, educated and a man of colour. He is a very private man - not unlike Dalgliesh himself - but very bright and proves that he has much more of an ability to understand the motives of the people involved in this case than his colleagues. Dalgliesh himself comes to the island with his personal life at a crisis. He has been involved with a woman he loves desperately, but is afraid to take the step into marriage, fearing rejection. He struggles with this personal dilemma as he works to solve this case.
Although there are few suspects, and they are contained on the island, they are tight-lipped and the case is slow to solve. When a second islander is murdered the detectives know they must make progress quickly.
At the same time one of the guests becomes ill. Diagnosed with SARS, he is quickly air-lifted to a hospital in England.
It is when Adam Dalgliesh is diagnosed with the same illness, and becomes seriously ill, that the island is quarantined, and Kate and Benton-Smith are left to take over the case.
The case is, of course, solved and the book ends. A terrific read - good choice for a plane trip. I shall go back and read the few that I have missed, and I'm looking forward to the next novel from this tried and true mystery novelist.