The Murder Room Essay - Critical Essays

P. D. James

Critical Evaluation

P. D. James, dubbed the “queen of crime” by critic Julian Symons, has contributed extensively to the mystery genre since the introduction of Inspector Adam Dalgliesh in Cover Her Face (1962). James has won numerous awards for her works, including the 1987 Diamond Dagger, the highest honor bestowed by the British Crime Writers’ Association.

The Murder Room is a fine example of James’s talents with plot development and narrative techniques. The opening section of the novel outlines a situation with an obvious victim and a whole host of potential suspects with a variety of motives. Neville Dupayne as the first victim seems a foregone conclusion, but the reader may be surprised when James signals the existence of a second victim. It is certainly a surprise to see that the second victim is a character James had yet to introduce. When the reader encounters a third victim, yet another twist is in store.

James has particular skill in painting her novels’ settings, especially the architecture, and she skillfully describes the mundane, such as the sights and the smells of the city. Several critics and scholars, thus, have written about the importance of place in James’s works.

James also drops clues that even a careful reader might miss, such as the description of Muriel Godby’s extreme devotion to Caroline that jumps off the page upon rereading, and the note during James Calder-Hale’s introduction that mentions him paying for discreet sex.

Some reviews of The Murder Room found it to be just an average entry in a series, chiding James for not doing anything new. Whether one believes the plot to be distinctive or mundane, no one can fault James’s skilled prose and mastery of ironic commentary.