Death in Holy Orders – Why Adam Dalgliesh is a detective next-door – Book Essay

Death in Holy Orders book - An essay on what makes the detective Adam Dalgliesh a next-door believable detective.

‘Death in Holy Orders’ is a book by P D James. The book, first published in 2001, has been republished multiple times in various editions. It became a bestseller in no time. However, sales doesn’t always equate to a good work. That’s why appreciation comes into existence. We look at where does it shine, and where does it break? More than just reviewing the story we’ll take a deeper look at the layers of the novel. We shall discuss a little about the plot, how the lead character has been formulated, and the way the story keeps hold of the audience’s attention in detail.

Let’s begin ! !

Death in Holy Orders – The story

Where it all began ! ! !

The story begins with an old woman narrating her dreadful experience of seeing the death of her student. As we continue reading, we understand that the woman is speaking to us through her diary. Margaret Munroe, the owner of the diary, describes to us the events that happened on the fine morning of the suicide of Ronald Treeves, one of her students. She finds him buried under the mudslide in the shores of the sea as she goes for her morning walk.

Death in Holy Orders

She introduces to us the St. Anselm’s, the church where she is working as a teacher. We get to know about Father John and a few of the other residents of the place. The church lies at the coast of the East Anglian. As she describes how she found Treeves, we learn much more in detail about the church’s surroundings and the loneliness that prevails around.

The probing starts . . .

In the meantime, Treeves’ wealthy father requests the police force to verify once if his son’s death is indeed natural. Adam Dalgliesh, a former student of the church, was due to spend his weekend at the church as a guest. In order to prevent unwanted manpower to satisfy the father’s doubts, Dalgliesh is asked to inquire about the death of Treeves during his trip.

As Dalgliesh gets ready to pay a simple visit to the church, Margaret Munroe is found dead. Though the medical reports concluded that the death was natural, something within Dalgliesh told him to keep this in mind. What was supposed to be a simple inquiry to satisfy the dead boy’s father, gets Dalgliesh deep into the hole as he senses something is wrong.

The falling pins

However, to make things worse another murder takes place the night Dalgliesh arrives on the island. This time it is a cold-blooded murder (absolutely no questions on that). Now Dalgliesh has to solve the mystery of the murder. He has to find the link between this murder and the other two deaths (if at all, there is one).

And thus continues the investigative thriller. What begins as an inquest to find whether a crime was committed or not becomes an interesting whodunit. Dalgliesh strikes as an interesting commander – he is similar to most of the detectives we have seen. However, unlike Agatha Christie’s Poirot, Dalgliesh seems simple headed and more realistic. He doesn’t even try to become the hero (though he is) of the plot of ‘Death in Holy Orders’. All he does is go along with the flow.

Death in Holy Orders – Adam Dalgliesh

Dalgliesh is a simple man. He prefers digging more clues rather than contemplating more on the existing facts. He prefers a practical approach. He strikes as a detective who looks for solid facts rather than theories. In fact, he doesn’t even form an opinion on who the murderer is until the last moment. He decides on the murderer only after obtaining sufficient clues and not based on his feelings. He believes that a strong clue speaks more than the strongly calculated theory.

The Insider/Isolation paradox

As he begins his investigation, he gets certain of the fact that the murderer is an insider. And that makes things more interesting. The book paints a vivid picture of the St.Anselm’s surroundings. Once we get a hook of the setting, we are daunted to comprehend its loneliness. There is an underlying air of fear and unpleasantness that prevails throughout. The eerie feeling of something wrong is going to happen arises throughout the story.

This prevailing loneliness affects many of the guests who stay for the weekend. It doesn’t skip over Dalgliesh too. As an isolated place, this community is not used to anything remotely similar to the continuous murders. The entire residents are gripped over by fear. And that fear causes much trouble for Dalgliesh. His investigation doesn’t go peacefully. He cannot trust the residents’ opinions and statements. Everyone gets under the scanner.

The methods of Adam Dalgliesh

Dalgliesh’s trouble to provide confidence to the people becomes even more difficult because of the fact that every resident could now be the murderer or the next victim. These thoughts are seldom expressed by words in the novel. However, the beauty of the text implies these facts to us through its narration.

Dalgliesh shines as a detective in ‘Death in Holy orders’ as he comes successfully at the other end of the tunnel (like most of the detective novels) but undergoes an unpleasant duel with the criminal before ending up the case. That was an overdramatized illogical act, especially considering the nature of Dalgliesh. That led down the elegantly built-up character of Dalgliesh.

Death in holy orders – The end

What the detective story is about is not murder but restoration of order

P D James, Death in Holy Orders

‘Death in Holy Orders’ shines in many areas. It provides a powerful crime investigation on the table, amply supported by the lead detective and his team. What I liked about the book is the way the lead detective, Dalgliesh, handles the pressure in a calm and composed manner. Though not being very creative in his efforts, he follows a simple trajectory that makes him realistic and practical.

He doesn’t get anywhere near to any of the famous detectives at large. He is neither like ‘Sherlock‘ nor ‘Poirot‘. In fact, he is not even close to ‘Cormoran strike‘. Rather he is a detective who could be living next door. He inspires that confidence and breathes a tinge of reality in him. And that is the single biggest USP of the book.

‘Death in Holy Orders’ has been made into a mini series that is available to watch on YouTube.

If you like this article on ‘Death in Holy Orders’, do check out The Art Muser’s other posts on WORLD CINEMA and LITERATURE

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