One book I have been able to enjoy lately, in spite of my reading slump, is P.D. James’s The Lighthouse, which I’m listening to on audio in my car on the way to and from work.  I’m not sure if it’s the book itself or the experience of listening rather than reading that makes the difference, but I have looked forward to listening to it every chance I get over the last week or so.  I finished it yesterday.

One of the things that drew me to the book, in addition to the interesting characters, the well-crafted plot, the atmosphere of literate intelligence, was its setting. It takes place on Combe Island, which has been used for the last half-century or so as a place of retreat for busy, stressed VIPs who need a place to relax for a week or two.  It’s a quiet place, with no cell phones, no noise, and no work (at least for the VIPs).  Visitors to the island spend their time reading, listening to music, walking along the shore, and joining each other occasionally for dinner, although they can remain completely isolated if they prefer.  Food appears regularly at their doorsteps and the guest cottages stay immaculately clean. The island’s most important rule is that nobody should bother the visitors.   As I listened, I couldn’t help but think about how much I need such a retreat right now.  Doesn’t it sound heavenly?  Yes, I’m not a VIP, and yes, it’s not entirely safe — murder may occur, but at this point I might consider risking it.

I enjoyed the novel so much that today I began listening to it again.  I’m so terrible at figuring out the plots of mystery novels and I’m bad at remembering all the details to put everything together properly at the end (especially when I’m listening as opposed to reading) that I thought I might enjoy listening to it again knowing who the murderer is, to see how James prepares the reader for the ending.  I haven’t the faintest clue how to go about plotting a mystery novel, and I have no intention of trying it myself, but I thought it would be interesting to learn a little about how James does it by paying closer attention than I could the first time around.

Really, since I have to commute, isn’t that a good way to spend the time?


Filed under Books, Fiction, Reading

11 responses to “Mysteries

  1. I could use one of those island retreats about now too.

    Listening to books is a lovely way to spend the time on your commute. And what a good idea to listen again, knowing how it will end, with the intention of figuring out how James plots the book.


  2. toujoursjacques

    I had to laugh out loud that you might risk murder for a retreat experience like the one in the book. But I do understand that strong ache for such a relaxing and restorative space. I read this book about a year ago (in one of my reading funks), along with a Dorothy Sayers and two of the Brother Cadfael mysteries (do you know them?). You are right about “The Lighthouse” setting being a strong draw; and the secret family history element kept me interested as well. All in all a very good read (or listen).


  3. I listened to “The Lighthouse” recently myself and thoroughly enjoyed it. At first I was impatient. Listening rather than reading made it all too apparent just how clunky and unrealistic James’s dialogue is. But once I got caught up in the plot, like you, I listened every chance that I got. I would certainly relish a stay at a technology-free retreat at this point as well, though without all the murders of course! A couple of other mysteries that I have enjoyed on audio recently are Martha Grimes “The Old Wine Shades” and Henning Mankell’s “Faceless Killers.” If you can find copies of those you might want to give them a try to leaven your commute.


  4. Oooh I’d forgotten about this book – thank you for reminding me! It sounds wonderful and like something I would read very soon. I adore listening to books – it’s one of the most relaxing things I know to do.


  5. I’ve only listened to audiobooks in the car and find I’ve missed important bits when I’ve had to concentrate on the traffic or the route. I’ve enjoyed the P D James books I’ve read, but I can never remember all the details.

    A book retreat sounds a wonderful idea!


  6. verbivore

    I love that you are listening to it a second time – what a good idea. Let us know how the experiment goes.

    I haven’t read this particular one either but I love a good mystery now and again. Will take a look for this one.


  7. I like your idea of rereading a mystery to see how she builds it up and reveals the murderer–I’ve never done that before, but it would be very interesting to see. Listening as opposed to reading does pose a few problems–not being able to go back and read an important section being one of them. I am really enjoying the Penny V. book I’m listening to. I wonder if I would like it less if I were reading or like the characters differently. It’s such a different experience listening to the voices being narrated. I think I sort of dislike some more than I normally would due to the intonations. Maybe not, though, maybe it’s just my odd perception. I really do need to read more PD James by the way. Glad you found something entertaining!


  8. I really enjoyed the book when I read it. Isn’t it about time there was another new book from P D James? I’m really with you about the retreat. I did once go to a retreat house only to discover that they let it be used for lunch-time parties for companies and the like. Not exactly the peace and quiet I’d gone there looking for.


  9. What I wouldn’t give for a retreat… I know I’m a woman of leisure right now but oddly enough I find that more people rely on me for things now that I’m supposed to be not busy. I could use some time away from it all 🙂
    I’m glad the James book is helping you throught he reading funk. I need to read more by her.


  10. I’m not very good at figuring mysteries out either. It sounds crazy, but I get too wrapped up in the story and the characters that I’m not really looking for clues. Maybe I should listen to a book that I’ve already read as an experiment to see if it helps me see how its done. Thanks for the suggestion.


  11. Stefanie — so far I’m enjoying the second listening — I’m not feeling bored at all. I’m curious to see what I’ll discover!

    Toujoursjacques — I’ve read some Dorothy Sayers, but not the Brother Cadfael mysteries, although we do have some at home. I should try them sometime. And you have no idea how much I need a retreat, murderer or no murderer!

    Kate — thank you for the suggestions! I remember your post on Mankell. Funny, I never noticed a problem with James’s dialogue — but I probably don’t have much of an ear for it.

    Litlove — I love listening to books too, although I’ve never tried it outside of my car — I’m not sure I could just sit there or lie there and listen. But it’s a wonderful way to get myself to work.

    BooksPlease — I miss important parts too, so I find myself backing up all the time, or quickly turning it off if I’m approaching a tricky intersection. But still I find it worth while.

    Verbivore — James’s novels are very satisfying — nice and long, without being too long, lots of interesting characters, thoughtful prose. Highly recommended!

    Danielle — I often wonder if I would like a book more or less if I were reading it as opposed to listening to it. I think I’m less judgmental when I listen because I get caught up in the story more and react in a more emotional way. I do prefer to listen to lighter, less serious books because otherwise I’d be missing too much.

    Ann — what a disappointment about the retreat! And yeah, I’d welcome a new James book, although there are plenty of old ones I haven’t yet read!

    Iliana — funny how “time off” quickly morphs into something entirely different!

    Lisa — I’m exactly the same way, in fact — I forget to look for clues. That doesn’t sound crazy to me at all!


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