Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 523
The Murder Room is a gallery in the private Dupayne Museum in London’s fashionably rustic Hampstead Heath. It contains exhibits about famous murders in English history, with (presumably) authentic artifacts associated with the murderers, as well as photographs and texts.
Commander Adam Dalgliesh of the Metropolitan Police is called in to investigate what seems to be a murder at the museum. A burned dead body has been found in a car in the museum’s garage. A staff member at the Dupayne Museum had arrived, after hours, to find the garage on fire.
Dalgliesh had visited the museum only recently with a friend. On that visit, seeing the Murder Room had made him contemplate the reasons behind a famous homicide featured there—and more generally human motivations for murder. Was it true, he wondered:
that strong passions had to be subject to the will, that a completely self-absorbed love could be dangerous and the price too high to pay? Wasn't that what he had been taught as a young recruit to the CID by the older, experienced sergeant now long retired? "All the motives for murder are covered by the four Ls: Love, Lust, Lucre and Loathing. They'll tell you, laddie, that the most dangerous is loathing. Don't you believe it. The most dangerous is love."
Riding home on her bicycle, the museum's housekeeper Tally sees the garage, and the trees around it, engulfed in flames. She approaches the garage and gets as close as she dares to the burning car in order to look inside. Tally cries out, as she can see that it's too late to help the man in the Jaguar:
She could gaze only for a few seconds before closing her eyes, but the horror of the scene could not be blotted out. It was imprinted now on her mind and she knew it would be there forever. She had no impulse to dash in and save; there was no in there to save.
After the initial investigation, Inspector Kate Mishkin returns to London to begin inspecting the entire museum. During a guided tour of the Murder Room (in which the guide is discussing a display that includes a metal trunk into which a murderer had placed his victim), Inspector Mishkin and several other visitors hear the sound of a cell phone ringing from inside the trunk. When it is opened, they discover a woman's dead body is inside; from the smell of it, it has been there several for days.
Inspector Mishkin then closes the trunk and sends the others out of the room. While she waits for another police officer to call Dalgliesh, she thinks about the second victim shut inside the trunk:
Although the trunk was closed, it seemed to Kate that the smell intensified with every second. It brought back other cases, other corpses, and yet was subtly different, as if the body were proclaiming its uniqueness even in death.
Ultimately, it turns out that Dalgliesh's instructor had been correct; the motive in both murders was love, as the murderer had tried to protect the person for whom she had deep—but unrequited—love.