I’m in the middle of a re-evaluation of P.D. James, at least as a short story writer (I’m not feeling ready yet for trying a novel of hers again, having not yet recovered from my two previous attempts) After reading the excellent The Part Time Job, I followed with The Boxdale Inheritance which I liked but also had issues with which I’m going to discuss here.
The first one has to do with Dalgliesh which I don’t find particularly remarkable as either a character or a detective. I feel about him exactly the same way Kate Jackson does about Ngaio Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn. He is admittedly competent and does his detective job effectively, but I’m not awed by him. Perhaps he shines better in the novel form.
Then there is James’s plotting which I also find competent but not as impressive as it is often claimed to be. I admittedly didn’t guess who the murderer was, but the solution was anti-climactic and I think not quite fair. It is certainly much less of a shocker than the final revelation in Part-Time Job.
That it fails to floor the reader is not the only problem I had with the solution, however. Those readers of this blog of a certain age may remember how the Baronness briefly got into hot water because of her novel Original Sin, which some reviewers thought borrowed heavily from Nicholas Blake’s End of Chapter. Coincidence or reminiscence? We’ll probably never know, but Boxdale too reminds one from another writer’s work as it is basically a reframing of Ellery Queen’s The Murderer is a Fox, from the core argument to the identity of the murderer, their « motive » and the « method » they used. Sure, there are significant differences as well such as the presence of an « accomplice » and the reason why the case is reopened but the similarities are still there and somewhat unsettling.
This is not to say the story is a dud however. It is extremely readable and smoothly written (James apparently kept her tendency to overwrite to her longer – increasingly longer – novels) and so I’m adding it as more evidence in her favour. Who knows, I may be on my way to become a fan.