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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 359

Adam Dalgliesh, a commander in London’s Metropolitan Police (also known as Scotland Yard), is one of P.D. James’ most enduring creations. His detecting skills are generally furthered, rather than inhibited, by his keen insights into human motivations; these skills are also deployed in his avocation, writing poetry. While Dalgliesh routinely displays genuine empathy with family and friends of the murder victims, and occasionally lapses into melancholic reveries, he never condones the taking of a life. In The Murder Room, James makes good use of Dalgliesh’s skills but exercises restraint in the degree of personal connection he makes with the other characters, including the criminals. The reader’s interest is sustained by trying to identify the killer, or killers, as well as determine along with the police the underlying psychological motivation.

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James adds a number of twists to an apparently traditional “closed room” murder mystery. While the Murder Room in the Dupayne Museum contains a large number of weapons used in previous homicides, the first murder does not take place there but in the building’s garage. And because the body is burned inside a car, it is not even immediately apparent if it was homicide, an accident, or even a suicide. The second murder victim is discovered inside the Murder Room, shut into a trunk, but probably was put there after being killed.

Another interesting variation on the traditional plot is the large number of characters with opportunity and access, but not necessarily motive. It is up to Dalgliesh and his associates, Kate and Piers, to uncover what anyone had to gain from either killing or perhaps both of them. James offers representatives of different class backgrounds, though not races or ethnicities, who are apparently invested for different reasons in the Dupayne Museum. For some, these reasons include a dark undercurrent of sexuality. The one person who favored closing the museum is the first victim, so the others are apparently in favor of its continued operation. James leaves the reader wondering until near the end about their reasons, while suggesting that support for cultural heritage and British history is not necessarily paramount in all their minds.

The Murder Room

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 333

Commander Adam Dalgliesh is persuaded by an eccentric friend, Conrad Ackroyd, to visit the Dupayne Museum, dedicated to the “between the Wars” years, 1919-1938. Conrad is researching the high-profile murder cases from that era showcased in a section called the “Murder Room.” He believes types of murders are an indication of the eras in which they occur. A week later Dalgliesh is back at the museum, this time to investigate the murder of one of the three Dupayne siblings who own it, and more murder and mayhem follows.

P. D. James has received many honors for her impressive series featuring Dalgliesh of New Scotland Yard, and The Murder Room is a finely crafted example of why she is often called England’s “Queen of Crime.” The mystery follows a classic “locked room” plot, with a limited number of suspects, all of whom have interlocking connections with the others. The museum near Hampstead Heath is fictitious, but the cases featured in the “Murder Room” are actual historical crimes, and the novel often offers philosophical commentary about murder and the relationship between detective fiction and true crime. The story takes place during two weeks in 2002 and tracks the daily activities of Commander Dalgliesh, Detective Inspector Kate Miskin, and two other Yard investigators. In the process, the novel provides a searing assessment of housing in different areas of contemporary London and the “unbridgeable gulf” between economic...

(The entire section contains 2873 words.)

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