DEVICES AND DESIRES by P.D. James

DEVICES AND DESIRES

KIRKUS REVIEW

Despite ever-growing sales and stature, James' mysteries have been uneven in recent years--without the thoroughly compelling characters and milieus that made her early output so distinctive. And this new, long outing--set in and around a nuclear power-station in remote Norfolk--is, though literate and densely thoughtful, perhaps the weakest James of all thus far, especially since sleuth Dalgliesh plays only a small, wishy-washy role. A serial killer dubbed ""The Whistler"" has been stalking women in the area near Larksoken Nuclear Power Station. So, when the body of the Larksoken administrator, Hilary Robarts, is found on the beach, murdered Whistler-style, the case seems clear--until it's learned that the actual Whistler committed suicide hours before Robarts' murder! Who, then, committed this copycat killing? Was it Larksoken director Alex Mair, who was trying to end his affair with Robarts? Or an anti-nuclear activist in the neighborhood who was being sued for libel by Robarts? Or the alcoholic painter (a widower with small children) whom Robarts was trying to evict from her property? Or a Larksoken colleague out to avenge the suicide (supposedly caused by Robarts) of his homosexual lover? Or--? The proliferation of suspects here, notwithstanding layers of serious, psychological characterization, often seems awkwardly contrived; few of the subplots rise above the mildly interesting; the nuclear setting never becomes satisfyingly relevant. (A tiny terrorism subplot verges on the embarrassing.) Commander Dalgliesh, in the area for a vacation, finds the body and does some 11th-hour detection, but his presence remains shadowy--while the other cops (in contrast to those in A Taste for Death) remain unappealing. Strongly written, then, and thickly readable--but ultimately flabby, pale, and disappointing.
Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1989
ISBN: 1400076242
Page count: 452pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1989




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