Peverell Press is the oldest publisher in London. It's a family business, owned by the Peverell and Etienne families. Recently the older generation has either retired or died, passing their shares to their families. The current owners and managing editors are the retiring Frances Peverell, Claudia Etienne, poet Gabriel Dauntsey, the man in love with Frances, James De Witt and Gerard Etienne, the man who is now the primary shareholder and head of the board. Gerard wants to change the company structure, sell the charismatic building - Peverell House -they are housed in, cut down staff, change the books they sell, and cut some of their long time authors that are no longer writing well.
One of Etienne's first moves after the funeral of the elder Peverell, the previous head of the board, is to inform one of the part time editors that she is being laid off after 20 years of service. A few days later she commits suicide in Peverell house. Etienne swears he told her decently, but the other four on the board know him well enough that he probably wasn't tactful or gentle. Yet her suicide note doesn't refer to the lay off at all. Also, someone is pulling practical stunts on the Press. Manuscripts have been changed, valuable photographs disappear before they are copied, and faxes are sent canceling authors' signings, among other things.
One morning the staff arrive to a bit of confusion. Gerard Etienne's car, jacket, and keys are where they normally are when he is working - left from the night before. But there is no sign of Etienne. They start a search party. His sister, Claudia, is one of the people who finds his body in the same room as the earlier suicide occurred. He may have been murdered, or the death may have been accidental and then someone tampered with his body. Someone saw Etienne as he was dying or after he had died.
The Special Unit from New Scotland Yard headed by Adam Dalgliesh is called to the scene. Each of the remaining four partners did not have good alibis for the time of Etienne's death. Some employees who also disliked Etienne's changes didn't have good alibis either. Dalgliesh's team is sure that someone from inside Peverell Press is involved. Now they have to figure out who and why - and if anyone else is in danger.
P.D. James crafts a multilayered, realistic, meandering (in the right way) mystery in Original Sin. The reader can visualize Peverell House, the fantastic house built by an earlier Peverell whose wife committed suicide. James weaves in and out of all the characters' lives, skillfully bringing the reader along, learning the truths behind the alibis for the night Etienne died. Many of the main suspects have obvious reasons for wanting Etienne dead. More have hidden reasons to want Etienne gone.
While the clues are there to implicate the true murderer, the reason isn't. By the time the reason is discovered, Dalgliesh and his team have figured out who killed not only Etienne, but two more people as well. I hadn't, but I admit I wasn't trying real hard. I was too busy following James' story along, keeping involved with the characters and story lines.
As a relief character, James brings in a temp secretary who was on her first day and on scene when the body of the suicide editor was found. The temp is used to bring more explanation and layers into the novel. She's the unattached observer who sees how different employees are treated at Peverell Press, She helps spread the gossip within the company. Her character helps the story progress smoothly.
At times Original Sin feels like a long book, but picks back up quickly and keeps moving. If you like good police procedural fiction with a feel for the characters involved, you should read Original Sin.
Notice: Suggestive dialogue or situations
| The Adam Dalgliesh Series:
Cover Her Face
These reviews are personal opinions only and in no way reflect other readers' opinions of the books discussed.
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