Title: Cover Her Face
Author: P.D. James
Protagonist: Detective Chief Inspector Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard
Setting: a country house outside London in the late 1950s
First Line: Exactly three months before the killing at Martingale Mrs. Maxie gave a dinner party.
Young housemaid Sally Jupp is found strangled behind a locked door in the Elizabethan manor house of Martingale, ancestral home to the Maxies. It is up to the brilliant Detective Chief Inspector Adam Dalgliesh to find her killer among a houseful of suspects, most of whom had good reason to dislike her.
I've heard a lot about P.D. James over the years, and since I'm having such a run of good luck with UK mystery writers, I finally decided to find out what all the fuss has been about.
It's been about some absolutely brilliant writing...in her very first book. Although the book was published in 1962, it does not feel dated. There are no needless descriptions of clothing, hair styles, shoes, car models, telephones, or kitchen appliances. When someone drives somewhere, you know they're traveling on a road in a vehicle, and that's it. Sounds rather sparse, but it's not. James focuses all her energies on the mystery and doesn't get bogged down in details that will only date the book for future generations of readers.
Chapter four is brilliant. In it Dalgliesh interviews all the suspects. The reader is allowed inside each person's head. One of them is the murderer, and yet James doesn't give away the person's identity. Only by careful reading was I able to piece together all the strategically placed clues to pare the list down to one person, and even then I wasn't sure until the very end.
Character-driven reader that I am, the only shortcoming I found was that James was so detached in her characterizations that I really didn't care one way or the other for any of the people in Cover Her Face. But the way she puts together a mystery--pure gold!
"Fine...subtle...engrossing." Chicago Tribune