70 Reviews: 5. Innocent House by P.D. James (Pocket Penguins) #review

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Whereas the other volumes covered so far in this boxset series have worked well as stand-alones, this one is definitely a teaser and I’m going to hunting out the complete novel, Original Sin, as soon as I’ve finished this review. And here comes reading-confession-time again – this is the first time I’ve read a PD James story. I don’t know why I don’t read crime writing more frequently. Every time I pick up a crime novel, I’m (usually) hooked fairly quickly, and James is obviously a master. Her opening two lines set up the story, establish a dry sense of observational humour and introduce us to a very likeable protagonist (we don’t meet the famous Adam Dalgliesh until Chapter 4):

‘For a temporary shorthand-typist to be present at the discovery of a corpse on the first day of a new assignment, if not unique, is sufficiently rare to prevent it being regarded as an occupational hazard. Certainly Mandy Price, aged nineteen years two months, and the acknowledged star of Mrs Crealey’s Nonesuch Secretarial Agency, set out on the morning of Tuesday, 14th September for her interview at the Peverall Press with no more apprehension than she usually felt at the start of a new job, an apprehension which was never acute and was rooted less in any anxiety whether she would satisfy the expectations of the prospective employer than in whether the employer would satisfy hers.’

20180630_070645-1James’ attention to detail is not limited to the crime scene and those immediately affected. Her descriptions of Innocent House itself make me want to hop onto the river steamer to Greenwich (do these still exist?) and see the building, ‘glittering in the morning sun, seeming to rise like a golden mirage from the shimmering water.’ Mandy, with her ‘remarkable hat’ is amongst a cast of vividly-drawn characters, some of whom, inevitably, have something to hide. Claudia Etienne and her brother, Gerard, chairman and managing director of Peverell Press, obviously have a cupboard’s worth, and I’m off to my local bookshop today to find out more. This Pocket Penguin extract has whetted my appetite very nicely indeed.

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