Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Murder Room

A while back I read a murder mystery by PD James called Devices and Desires.  A few days ago I finished another of James's mysteries called The Murder Room. I write little summaries for books I have read as much to make sure that I don't read again a book I've already finished. It has happened on more than one occasion that I come across a book that looks interesting, but I think the title is familiar.  When I go to my summary file, I see that I read the book and have registered my opinion for my own benefit--not to be confused with the reviews I write now and again in this blog.

When I read what I had written about Devices and Desires I was a little surprised to read that what I had to say about that mystery was very much what I have to say about this one. There is one difference. In my first summary I wrote--incorrectly it turns out--that I probably will not read another of her novels again.  Now, after reading this one, I know my earlier prediction was wrong and I think I might read another.

The downside of reading these mysteries is that the level of detail is just too much at least for my head.  A police officer does not come into a room to interview a suspect in James's novels.  What happens in James's novels is that a tall tanned officer with a graying mustache and a slight limp comes into a room and stares at a painting by Van Gogh which reminds him of his sister Gwen before she stopped coloring her hair brown to match the quilled suit she wore every other Wednesday in the spring that she purchased second hand from a store with a leaky roof that is now, sadly, out of business.

You get the picture, nothing is simple.  The bad news is that if you are not into that detail you can drift. The good news is that if you like being a sleuth sometimes there is a clue in the detail that might help you find the perpetrator.  Still it is too much. In this novel the doer, we find out at the end, had one motivation that was apparent but another that was embedded in one of these deep background descriptions.  That is, I think it was embedded because when I was done I tried to find a smoking gun and, while I found a gun, it really was not smoking unless I missed something else.

If you think you might read this novel, stop right here.

The Murder Room is a room in a museum that has a quirky niche. It is only about events that took place between world war 1 and world war 2.  One part of the museum is dedicated to strange murders that took place during the period. The murders in the museum are actual murders that did take place during this period, but what happens in the novel is that two others are murdered in or near the murder room in a way that imitates the real murders.

James is pretty clever presenting all the characters in the first part of the novel who could be the doers and the reader is given some clues to suggest that this one or that one could have done it.  It reminded me in a way of the game of Clue you played as a kid.  The Butler did it in the living room with a corkscrew kind of thing.  Several potential killers are described.  By the time I waded through the heavy descriptions of every single interview, I just wanted to know already who was the killer.  Initially I had my money on one of the volunteers, but it was not she.

I can't really recommend this book unless you really like to read descriptive mysteries. I might read another to see if I can figure it out by paying more attention to each scene.  It's been about five days since I finished the novel and while I was writing this blog it took me a while to remember who one of the victims was--an indication of how long the story has stayed with me.

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