The doyenne of British mystery celebrates her 85th birthday by packing off Adam Dalgliesh and two members of his Metropolitan Murder Squad to investigate the violent death of a famous novelist on a remote island off the Cornish coast.
For 75 years, Combe Island has been administered by a charitable trust as a restorative refuge for distinguished citizens. Now its lighthouse seems destined for notoriety as the place where novelist Nathan Oliver was launched into eternity at the end of a rope. In the hope of keeping a lid on the unsavory publicity, Dalgliesh, DI Kate Miskin and Sgt. Francis Benton-Smith are dispatched from the City. They find the island’s staff and its handful of other visitors, including Oliver’s daughter Miranda and his copyeditor Dennis Tremlett, shocked but hardly grief-stricken. Well-hated Oliver’s murder (or was it a suicide or a bizarre accident someone wanted to look like murder?) inevitably opens the doors to secrets long locked away. James doesn’t stint on the old-fashioned complications of mechanics and motives. But her most telling details are the quietest—a police record, a lost vial of blood, a tag from Christopher Marlowe, a telltale cough—each of which will take its place in the resolution.
Although the story is briefer than James’s recent double-deckers (The Murder Room, 2003, etc.), readers will still revel in her matchless fullness of characterization. A stay on Combe Island really is tonic.