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by P.D. James

Pub Date: Feb. 7th, 1995
ISBN: 0-679-43889-0
Publisher: Knopf

The directors of London's venerable Peverell Press think that the suicide of senior editor Sonia Clements in the archive room of the firm's palatial offices in Innocent House is the last and most shocking episode in a series of disruptions to their business: some lost illustrations, a manuscript maliciously altered in proof, an unsigned note to one of the current authors pointing out that two other Peverell authors have recently died. But their troubles have only begun, as they learn when they open the office to discover the body of managing director Gerard Etienne dead of carbon monoxide poisoning. The death would look accidental if someone hadn't pried Etienne's dead jaws open and stuck inside the head of a stuffed snake, an office mascot called Hissing Sid, and the first question Commander Adam Dalgliesh (Devices and Desires, 1990, etc.) answers with his accustomed brilliance is what the snake is doing there. For the rest, the tale is little more than a series of interrogations, in James's most ceremonious style, of the surviving directors and the Peverell staff, designed to ferret out motives (there are many, ranging from professional revenge to the cash nexus) and alibis (everybody offers one); yet long before the hair-raising, if not entirely original, climax, you'll be enraptured by James's uncanny penetration into even the most minor functionaries, who live on the page with a fierce intensity even deeper than the mystery at Innocent House. One of James's most successful meldings of the old-fashioned whodunit onto the novel of character—a Middlemarch of the classic detective story.