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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 544

The title Death in Holy Orders refers directly to the mystery setting, the isolated and very traditional Protestant theological seminary of St. Anselms, on the bleak East Anglian coast. The seminary is the scene of the unexplained death of a troubled young ordinand and the later murder of a self-righteous archbishop, who was determined to close down the establishment as archaic and redundant and sell its valuable artworks and relics. Both of the dead are in Holy Orders, and every clue that Inspector Dalgliesh and his London team uncover suggests an insider at work, wearing a seminarian’s cloak, opening doors with keys left in-house, and acting in times and places that require local knowledge of schedules and habits.

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For Dalgliesh, the setting holds special meaning, since he spent part of his youth there. He experiences a deep nostalgia for those summer days, rediscovers close ties to the former warden, the elderly and devout Father Martin, and finds peace and rest in this place. Thus, he feels comfortable asking questions about the troubled youth who perished beneath a sudden fall of sand from the cliff above him. James introduces the players, the conflicts, the relationships, and the building tensions with Dalgliesh on the spot observing, rather than coming in after murder has been clearly committed. Amid talk of religious art and of the controversy surrounding a papyrus fragment that could shake the foundations of Christianity, Dalgliesh suddenly finds himself in the midst of multiple murders that strike at the heart of this small, pious community. Although three deaths arouse Dalgliesh’s intuitive suspicions, it is the murder of the archbishop that provides the impetus for calling in his London team. Once on the spot, they and he uncover some of the nasty secrets behind the innocent facades: pedophilia, incest, lesbianism, and greed, red herrings that distract from the main offense. With almost everyone lying to some degree or simply failing to tell all they know because they do not realize the significance of minor observations, progression toward a swift resolution proves difficult.

The power of this novel lies less in the uncovering of responsibility and more in the ruminative journey through multiple,...

(The entire section contains 544 words.)

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