three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
21-Mar-Apr-2006
By: 
P. D. James
user_rating: 
0

A-TheLighthouseOn Combe Island, a remote, exclusive resort off England’s Cornish coast, distinguished author Nathan Oliver is found hanging from the lighthouse. Scotland Yard dispatches Commander Adam Dalgliesh to solve the murder. Each suspect—a secretary-lawyer, doctor, vicar, handyman, boatman, cook, housekeeper, German diplomat, scientist, and the deceased’s daughter, her lover, and his copy editor—has possible motives for murder: each seems better off without him. As Dalgliesh delves inside the suspects’ psyches for clues, he ponders his thwarted love affair while his team deals with their own problems. Then a second person dies.
Knopf. 335 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 030726291X

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"It can be said for the umpteenth time that what distinguishes James from shallow, plot-driven writers is the exquisite care with which she assembles character and setting. … When the reader thinks he’s got it all figured out, James blindsides him with a stunning revelation that is all the more shocking because it is so tightly connected to all that has gone before. And then she does it again." Henry Kisor

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Now in her mid-eighties, James has written one of the most compelling books of her remarkable career. Far from being merely a puzzle worth solving, The Lighthouse is a magisterial and subtle exploration of all-too-human emotions." Adam Woog

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Lighthouse is too rooted in genre conventions to count originality as its strong suit. … Ms. James is at her most barbed in describing Oliver’s writing process—and his method of inflicting real misery on real people as a form of research." Janet Maslin

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"As is her style, James again gathers a small group of people and lets human nature take its course. … Although the pace of The Lighthouse is slower than some earlier books, James’s playful side is full of rewards." Michele Ross

San Jose Mercury News 3 of 5 Stars
"There are bits of wonderful writing in this book, in sometimes surprising places. …To her fans, this book’s 335 pages will read like 40. To more impatient mystery fans, they will read like a thousand." John Orr

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1.5 of 5 Stars
"When the truth emerges, it’s a rather twisty story with a high degree of improbability. … James’s novels depend on character study and atmosphere rather than plot, but when the first two are under par, the plot weaknesses are more glaring." Bob Hoover

Critical Summary

Last seen in The Murder Room (2003) ( 3 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2004), Dalgliesh is still pondering his romance, and there’s still a mystery to be solved. Critics, who generally praised this 13th installment of the series, saw similarities to the plot of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, to Jane Austen’s playful writing, and to Virginia Woolf’s themes. Vivid character studies and intricate settings reveal James’s eye for detail—from descriptions of Oliver’s insidious personality and Dalgliesh’s insecurities to an intelligent game of Scrabble. James also makes references to popular literature. But there are no quick rewards for the reader interested in a fast-paced mystery or a wholly original plot—except for the ending, which "will transfix even the most hopeless addict of potboilers" (Chicago Sun-Times).