(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The title, Innocent Blood, refers to a twelve-year-old girl who is lured into the home of a pedophile, raped, and then strangled by the molester’s wife. It also suggests a second victim, eighteen-year-old Philippa Rose Palfrey, an adoptee burdened by her natural parents’ crime. Adopted before the murder occurred, the intelligent but difficult Philippa is adoptive father/sociologist Maurice Palfrey’s living proof of nurture countering genetics. Her blood is not shed, but she must confront her parents’ guilt. Ironically, she proves far more cold-blooded and ruthlessly egocentric than either parent, and her rejection of her long-suffering, docile mother results in the final bloodshed. James’s narrative skill and deft psychological analysis suggest that the final “innocent” blood shed is that of the murderess/mother, who commits suicide when rejected by the daughter she has come to love and on whom she has come to depend.

Innocent Blood grew out of James’s musings, on a real murder case, about a child’s knowledge of parental culpability and about the potentially disastrous effects of the Children Act of 1975, which permitted adoptees to learn the identity of their natural parents. Not a detection or a crime novel, it shares the detective story’s interest in guilt and innocence, crime and punishment, love and revenge. Despite her fine education and comfortable home, Philippa fantasizes about her real parents when irritated by her adoptive ones. In a sociological and psychological experiment of the sort she accuses Maurice of...

(The entire section is 644 words.)