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Death of an Expert Witness

In: English and Literature

Submitted By Janedoe1
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Death of an expert witness by P.D James
English C

Phyllis Dorothy James or more commonly referred to as P.D James was born in Oxford in 1920. James attended Cambridge High School for Girls. Her first published work titled Cover Her Face which she began writing in the mid 50s introduced the public to her most iconic character; investigator Adam Dagliesh. Dagliesh is a well-known character who is a reoccurring presence in a series of detective novels one of which I have had the pleasure of indulging in/reading, namely The Death of an expert witness.

Death of an Expert Witness
The novel was published 1977 receiving praise from an array of writers and readers. The story opens with scientists and experts in cases of violent deaths being summoned to the scene where a murder has taken place. The victim is a young woman who by the looks of it has been strangled and abandoned in a field. The storyline however does not revolve around the murder in question but is more of a subtle method to introduce the reader to the staff of the forensics laboratory before the murder which the story centres around has takes place/been committed. One is primarily introduced to the forensic pathologist of the Hoggatts Laboratory (located in East Anglia), Dr Kerrison. Kerrison is one morning rudely awoken by the insistent ringing of the phone, careful not to awaken his two young children Nell and William, he quietly leaves the house. In this passage we also become intimately acquainted with Dr. Kerrisons difficult private life as he is in the middle of a divorce and custody battle. We are also told that Kerrison believes that he has failed to attain anything in his life besides anxiety and uncertainty in a sign of blatant low assessed self-worth on the characters behalf. Thereon we are introduced to a second character; the newly appointed Director of the Forensic Science Lab, Dr. Howarth. These two characters seemingly harbouring a shared animosity and bitterness towards a certain Dr. Edwin Lorrimer, Director of the Biology Department. Howarth’s despise is mainly due to Lorrimers previous involvement with his half sister Dominica. This is explicably transparent in the third chapter of the novel where Howarth is quoted saying; “Damn Lorrimer! Everything he touches goes wrong for me. He felt a spasm of hatred so intense, so physical that it made him retch. If only Lorrimer's body were sprawled at the bottom of the clench pit.” (Chapter 3, p.28)
Another character is Angela Foley, secretary assistant to Dr. Howarth. Further into the novel her along with Stella Mawson a writer she is residing with express a wish to buy the cottage they are living in. In order to do this they require a loan as they have failed to gather enough money on their own. Angela subsequently asks her cousin the previously mentioned and abhorred Dr. Lorrimer who promptly refuses. As Lorrimer has inherited a great deal of money this should not be an issue, and while he refuses we become aware of the fact that Angela is said to inherit this at the point of his death. Deeper as we delve into the story we are presented to a scenario in which Breda Pridmore, a receptionist at the Hoggats Laboratory arriving there one day accompanied by an Inspector Blakelock one hour prior to the personnel. As they near the lab they receive a distressing phone call from Dr.Lorrimers father expressing worry over his son who failed to come home the previous night. The inspector attempts to calm the man blatantly voicing his concern for his son by stating that he may have spent the night at the office. Brenda agrees as this is not uncommon and volunteers to have a look. As she nears the office she is greeted by awful odour of rotten flesh. There lies the corpse of Dr. Lorrimer. Only then are we at last given the pleasure of meeting the noted inspector Dalgliesh. He immediately establishes that only those with access to the laboratory could have committed this heinous crime. He has thus narrowed down a handful of suspects but the question still remains, who is guilty?
The narrative voice alters frequently throughout the story, paying each respect to the perspectives of all the characters included. A recurrent one is third person point of view which shifts between the different characters. It is in this fashion that we are introduced to a multitude of characters including; Dr. Kerrison, Nell Kerrison, Maxim Howarth, Angela Foley, Adam Dalgliesh, Brenda Pridmore and John Inspector Doyle. It allows for the reader to understand each characters mindset and motives. And it allows for one to intimately become acquainted with their perspectives which the Detective does not.
Throughout the novel is written and structured in such a way to create a feeling of constant tension and mystery as you attempt to puzzle together the pieces of what has truly transpired. The purpose is to decipher each individuals gain at Dr. Lorrimers death and is meant to have the reader themselves pondering on whom of the characters might benefit most from his demise. Similar to the novels by Agatha Christie or the very talented Arthur Conan Doyle the evidence and countless of disguised hints are fed to the reader in order for them to be brought on a journey to solve the mystery.
While it is not the best of books that I have read, it certainly cannot be said to have been dull. One is quite often on edge when reading it, attempting to gather all the puzzle pieces; it was a real page turner as the critics often say. The only real objection that I have is towards the often ridicules names of her characters. They do not seem very common and unless there is a certain village or small town where all the Lorrimers and Dalglieshs reside, I strongly believe them to be made up (I can guarantee that I have at some point spelled some names wrong due to their well for lack of a better word weirdness). Still it is a book which I would gladly recommend to anyone who enjoys a bit of mystery and excitement every ones and a while.

Other famous works of hers include Devices and Desires, The Lighthouse, The Murder Room, The Private Patient and many more.

Sources include:

Death of an Expert Witness – P.D James Faber Podcast Special: An Interview with P.D James (09.09.25) - --------------------------------------------
[ 1 ]. Faber & Faber

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