Devices and Desires

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

While on holiday and tying up the loose ends of his late aunt’s estate, Adam Dalgliesh quite literally stumbles over a murder victim and is plunged into a strange web of secrecy and hatred that links the inhabitants of Larksoken. The victim, Hilary Roberts, was the acting administrative officer at Larksoken Nuclear Power Station and was enthusiastically disliked by most of her coworkers and neighbors. When it becomes clear that Hilary cannot possibly the final victim of the Whistler, the notorious serial killer who has been terrorizing Larksoken and the surrounding communities, the local police have many other suspects to investigate, including Hilary’s boss and former lover, the artist Hilary was trying to evict from a cottage she owned, and the antinuclear activist Hilary was suing for libel.

James shows herself to be a master storyteller, combining the coolly analytical viewpoint of Dalgliesh with a graceful and poetic prose style of her own. She skillfully presents the events of the novel by shifting the narrative among her various characters, thus enabling the reader to view the murder case and its impact on Larksoken from a variety of perspectives. By placing Dalgliesh in the unusual role of interested bystander instead of chief investigator, James seems to be inviting the reader to take on the role of protagonist, and she conveys information to the reader that Dalgliesh and the other investigators can never know. In steering away from the traditional whodunit formula, James is able to explore the psychological dimensions of the murder case more fully and thus creates a more compelling work of fiction.

Sources for Further Study

Chicago Tribune. February 4, 1990, p.1.

London Review of Books. XI, December 7, 1989, p. 18.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. February 25, 1990, p.1.

Maclean’s. CIII, March 16, 1990, p.67.

New Statesman and Society. II, October 6, 1989, p.41.

The New York Review ofBooks. XXXVII, April 26, 1990, p.35.

The New York Times Book Review. XCV, January 28, 1990, p.1.

Newsweek. CXV, February 19, 1990, p.66.

Publishers Weekly CCXXXVI, December 1, 1989, p.48.

The Times Literary Supplement. November 10, 1989, p.1244.

The Washington Post Book World. XX, January 21, 1990, p.7.