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by P.D. James

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-375-40109-1
Publisher: Knopf

 Four weeks after she's defended Garry Ashe on a charge of murdering his disreputable aunt--in a bravura sequence that provides the most electric opening of any of James's novels--his barrister, brilliant, aloof Venetia Aldridge, is found stabbed to death in her chambers with a paper-knife, a barrister's wig on her head and her corpse soaked in fresh blood. Commander Adam Dalgliesh and his squad naturally suspect Ashe, a plausible sociopath who's improved sufficiently on his acquaintance with Venetia to engage himself to her sadly neglected daughter Octavia Cummins. But Ashe provides an alibi, and Dalgliesh turns to other members of chambers: the retiring head; Venetia's rival to succeed him; the colleague whose jury tampering three years ago Venetia had just discovered; and the doting uncle of that colleague's wife. Under Dalgliesh's patient, tough-minded examination, the junior candidates for tenancy in chambers reveal their own fierce rivalries and fiercely divided motives; so do the clerks, members of the support staff, their families, their ex-spouses, their housemates, until finally a pattern of unspeakable hurt and diabolical revenge begins to emerge. In James's severely Darwinian view of the species, everyone is programmed with memories of traumatic past sufferings, and everyone does whatever it takes to survive. It's left to Dalgliesh and Inspectors Kate Miskin and Piers Tarrant to succor the survivors and count the heavy costs. Even more perfectly than the publishing house in Original Sin (1995), Venetia's law chambers provide James with the ideal arena for her boundlessly compassionate probing of human frailty and for the shivery hope of goodness. (First printing of 250,000; Book-of-the-Month Club selection)