The Skull Beneath the Skin

The Skull Beneath the Skin

3.79 (4,912 ratings by Goodreads)
  • Paperback

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Fading star Clarissa Lisle plans a spectacular comeback in a private performance of Webster' s bloodcurdling tragedy "The Duchess of Malfi," to be staged in an island castle owned by the eccentric collector Ambrose Gorringe. When she begins to receive poison-pen letters -- bearing death threats couched in Shakespearean quotations -- her husband hires young private detective Cordelia Gray to ensure her safety. But before the curtain rises, one of the party will fall victim to a murderous blow, and as the suspense builds, it becomes clear to Cordelia that everyone confined within the walls of the castle seems to have an excellent motive for sending Clarissa Lisle " down, down to hell."show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 384 pages
  • 109.22 x 172.72 x 22.86mm | 317.51g
  • Penguin Books Ltd
  • London, United Kingdom
  • New edition
  • 014012960X
  • 9780140129601

Review quote

" A masterly version of the clue-and-alibi game. . . . Five star!" -- "The Guardian "" P.D. James pulls out all the stops ...combining the enclosed setting of the country-house murder with elements of the horror story; an overlay of lust; a collection of relics of Victorian murderers ...midnight apparitions; hairbreadth escapes." -- "New York Magazine"show more

Review Text

"We are here together, ten of us on this small and lonely island. And one of us is a murderer." Sounds familiar? Of course - because, while never for a moment relinquishing her own rich, dark personal style, James has made her latest mystery something of an hommage to Agatha Christie: the isolated island, the tricky interplay of motives, the rather theatrical cast-of-characters. And, even better, James has brought back one of detection's Great Under-Exposed Favorites - Cordelia Gray of An Unsuitable Job for a Woman - as sleuth. (Commander A. Dalgliesh is talked about here but never appears.) Cordelia, struggling private eye, is hired as weekend bodyguard/companion to actress Clarissa Lisle - a fading great who's been beleaguered by creepy, anonymous, poetic death-threats. The setting: Courcy Is-land - where nervous, egocentric Clarissa, as castle guest of effete, erudite Ambrose Gorringe, is to play the lead in an amateur performance of The Duchess of Malfi. The fellow guests: Clarissa's lovesick spinster-cousin Roma (desperately in need of cash); her fidgety young stepson; her Mrs. Danvers-like dresser; her ex-lover, critic lye Whittington (bitter, terminally ill); and her fourth husband George, a military man with ugly WW II secrets. So there are motives galore when Clarissa is found bashed to death just before the performance. . . soon to be followed by the drowning of weird butler Munter. And, though the solution is a trifle ho-hum (a sliver of psychopathology), the detours along the way are splendidly Christie-ish. Finally, however, James scores not with plot but with texture: the understated humor, the stately yet unpretentious prose, the psychological insights, the quiet charm - plus, above all, the fundamental warmth and wisdom in every line she writes. In short: another James triumph - a bit less ambitious than her others, perhaps, but no less distinctive or absorbing. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

4,912 ratings
3.79 out of 5 stars
5 24% (1,184)
4 39% (1,918)
3 30% (1,479)
2 5% (266)
1 1% (65)
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