A beleaguered private museum on the edge of Hampstead Heath provides James’s latest lethal biosphere.
The lease on Dupayne Museum, devoted to the cultural history of England between the two world wars, is about to expire, and all three of founder Max Dupayne’s children have to endorse the terms of any renewal. Marcus Dupayne, the museum’s de facto manager, and his sister Caroline, joint principal of the exclusive Swathling’s School, are nervously eyeing psychiatrist Neville, who’s determined to take this opportunity to veto the museum out of existence—until he’s killed in circumstances that recall a famous murder memorialized in the museum. Though his siblings are obvious suspects, much more is at stake than their welfare. The entire staff, from curator James Calder-Hale to receptionist Muriel Godby to housekeeper Tally Clutton, depend in different ways on the museum’s survival, and Calder-Hale’s involvement brings in Commander Adam Dalgliesh’s elite Special Investigation Squad to shine a pitiless light on them all. It’s a signal achievement of the ceremonious investigation that even after it’s revealed the sad truth about three violent deaths, most readers will be sorry to take their leave of a cast that seems to have still more depths to plumb.
Despite a plot less ineluctable than her best (Death in Holy Orders, 2001, etc.), James creates another teeming world in which murder is only the symptom of a more pervasive mortality.