Around autumn and winter, for some reason I start craving English crime novels. It happens quite reliably every year, and last year acquainted me with the Flavia De Luce series. This year, I decided to sink my teeth into PD James, and boy, am I glad I did. I started with her debut crime novel, Cover Her Face, which is also the first in the Adam Dalgliesh series.
As far as “whodunnit” crime novels go, this one is very close to perfection. Dalgliesh is one of those inspectors who does his job thoroughly before gathering all the suspects (and there are plenty of suspects in Cover Her Face) in one room to reveal the results. A young maid, unmarried and with a son, is taken in by the Maxies to work for them. She turns out to be ambitious and not very likeable, but intelligent, and promptly gets killed. Many people seem to have a motive for wanting to get rid of young Sally: the old maid Martha, Stephen Maxie and his sister Deborah, Sally’s uncle who took her in when she was a child, Miss Liddell who runs the home for young unmarried mothers where Sally lived before working for the Maxies… Inspector Dalgliesh has lots of lines of investigation to pursue.
Exactly three months before the killing at Martingale Mrs Maxie gave a dinner-party.
This is the opening line of Cover Her Face, and it keeps its promise. This is post-war Britain at its finest, with many old rules and institutions still intact but starting to crumble, and I loved how PD James picks up on these issues while providing everything you could ask for in a classic crime novel.