For James, the detective story is a twentieth-century morality play, and in her novels she deals with moral problems that confront society. Devices and Desires is set in the remote Norfolk headland called Larksoken, the site of a fictional nuclear power station. The threat of contamination from the station is ever-present, and one of the characters, Neil Pascoe, has mounted a one-man campaign, PANUP, against the dangers of nuclear power. His efforts do not have much success, but his arguments reflect many present-day concerns.
The question of terrorism enters into James's concerns. Carolyn Amphlett, the competent secretary, who does not wish to accompany Alex Mair to London, is in reality a member of a terrorist group. Her move to escape with Amy Camm is treated rather melodramatically, and the two perish in their attempt to outwit other terrorists. This treatment, criticized in many reviews, is nevertheless consistent with reality, since terrorist attacks are usually tinged with melodrama and often cause the death of innocent victims.
As in her previous novel, A Taste for Death (1986), James shows the deterioration of contemporary family life. Alex Mair, the director of the power plant, has divorced his first wife and is further disappointed in a love affair with Hilary Robarts, the murder victim. His passionate but brief affair with Amy Camm brings no stability to his emotional life. The question of abortion is also presented...
(The entire section is 742 words.)
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