My Two-year Journey with Adam Dalgliesh
A little over two years ago, I decided to embark on a literary journey to read in order all fourteen books in the Adam Dalgliesh series. The series, written by British author and Dame P.D. James, focuses on Adam Dalgliesh, a police detective from New Scotland Yard. Dalgliesh is unusual in the annals of English detectives in that he is also an accomplished poet with several published volumes to his name. The incompatibility of dealing with death at its most gruesome state and writing beautiful lines of verse is an incongruity that is often remarked upon by the various suspects, fellow police officers, and even Daligliesh's publishers throughout the series.
The first Dalgliesh book, Cover Her Face, was published in 1962. P.D. James would go on to write thirteen more books, finishing the series with The Private Patient in 2008. Over the course of the series, Adam Dalgliesh goes from being a Detective Chief Inspector to the Commander of a special squad focused on "sensitive" cases. Over the fourteen books, the cast of supporting characters has changed significantly, but what has remained consistent is the intensely cerebral and very private character of Dalgliesh.
As one can imagine, a series that spans over forty years often struggles to remain relevant through the decades without reinventing itself with the times. In Adam Dalgliesh, P.D. James has created a character that seems to stand strong through the decades. Her stories are inventive without seeming too stuck in the era when they were written. A reader might notice a distinctive lack of technology in the early books, but that doesn't in any way detract from the plot itself. Even in her later novels, when mobile phones and computers are more prevalent in society, James is careful to ensure that technology never overshadows her character's a ability to think for himself.
With my reading of the final book, The Private Patient, complete, I can say unequivocally that it was a journey worth the time. The character of Adam Dalgliesh ages well throughout the series, and never felt dated or compromised for the sake of the changing times. The early books in the series read well even today despite being almost fifty years old. The plot and characterization is strong enough to keep the reader interested without feeling that the text is dated in any way. James also did a nice job of making her books very independent of each other, allowing the reader to read any in the series without feeling too lost. And, unlike many mystery novels, not all of Dalgliesh's stories end with the criminal captured and everything neatly wrapped up with a bow. For a fan of detective fiction, it is sometimes refreshing to see a "hero" who doesn't always win in the end.
Something that I particular enjoyed about this series was the attention to detail from James in relation to scene setting and character development. In many cases, she spends the first quarter to third of the novel setting up the circumstances for the first murder. By the time the crime is committed, you are intimately involved with the cast of characters. In many of the book, Dalgliesh doesn't even play a role until a third of the way through.
Of the books in the series, I felt that A Taste for Death and Devices and Desires were the most enjoyable. If you are looking for a good character-driven book, I'd suggest you pick up any of the fourteen books in the Adam Dalgliesh series from P.D. James.