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The Murder Room Discussion Questions

The Murder Room
By P.D. James
Published 2003

  1. Book One is dedicated to introducing a wide array of characters, all of whom are possible suspects in the murder of Neville Dupayne. Judging from the presentation of characters here, who seems most likely to be the killer, and why?

  2. Dalgliesh's first visit to the museum just a week before the first murder, we are told, is "one of life's bizarre coincidences which...never fail to surprise" (p. 3). What other coincidences does James introduce either to complicate or resolve the plot?

  3. Like many of James's novels, The Murder Room demonstrates a detailed interest in architecture and in historic buildings. How do these settings focus the reader's attention, and how do ideas about the city of London enrich the novel?

  4. Adam Dalgliesh is in love: "He felt as vulnerable as a boy in love for the first time... Somehow he had to find the courage to risk that rejection, to accept the momentous presumption that Emma might love him" (pp. 28-29). In The Murder Room the hero's personal life impinges, to some degree, on his professional life. How is the love plot -- Dalgliesh's interest in Emma Lavenham and hers in him -- incorporated into the mystery plot?

  5. Tally Clutton clearly has a motive for murder. The reader knows that she didn't do it however, since she arrived at the museum just in time to witness Neville Dupayne's death. How seriously is she considered a suspect by Dalgliesh and his team? If there is a single character at the novel's moral center, is she the one? Is her near-death the climax of the plot?

  6. How does the novel's epigraph, from T. S. Eliot's World War II poem "Burnt Norton," resonate with the story? Does the epigraph suggest that James's larger theme is that of time -- or history -- and identity?

  7. Conrad Ackroyd is writing a series of articles arguing, "Murder, the unique crime, is a paradigm of its age" (p. 7). Do the events of the story bear out Ackroyd's theory? Or does the novel seem to prove instead that murder is the result of human emotions -- like rage, resentment, or jealousy -- that don't change over time?

  8. Neville Dupayne wants to close the museum because he feels strongly that people are too obsessed with the past, and therefore they neglect the problems of the present (pp. 191-92). Is Muriel Godby obsessed with the past? How does the novel's conclusion fit into Neville and Muriel's worldviews?

  9. Many moments in The Murder Room recall the prominence of war in characters' memories. Emma remembers walking with her nurse to a war memorial (p. 46), David Wilkins wants to own a painting of Passchendaele (p. 250), Tally remembers the bombing raid that orphaned her (p. 49), and Dalgliesh remembers his family's gardener's stories about his service in World War I (p. 209). What larger point is James making about the two world wars and their impact on English life?

Excerpted by permission of Vintage Books. To print the complete Reading Group Guide, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com

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