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Death of an Expert Witness (1977)

by P. D. James

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Adam Dalgliesh (6)

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2,412426,343 (3.78)57
An evil-tempered forensic scientist is put to death, putting many of his colleagues out of misery. Commander Adam Dalgliesh must exhume the secrets of Dr. Lorrimer's laboratory in order to lay bare the murderous motive hidden in one human heart.

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» See also 57 mentions

English (33)  Spanish (4)  Finnish (2)  Danish (1)  French (1)  German (1)  All languages (42)
Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
Laboratory Lust
Review of the Sphere Books paperback (1978 orig./1986 reprint) of the Faber & Faber hardcover original (1977)

I used to think that we can have almost anything we want from life, that it's just a question of organization. But now I'm beginning to think that we have to make a choice more often than we'd like. The important thing is to make sure that it's our choice, no one else's, and that we make it honestly. But one thing I'm sure of is that it's never a good thing to make a decision when you're not absolutely well. - Adam Dalgliesh gives advice during Death of an Expert Witness

Detective Commander* Adam Dalgliesh and his assistant DS John Massingham, both of Scotland Yard CID, are called out to investigate the death of Dr. Edwin Lorrimer at the East Anglia Forensics Laboratory. Lorrimer was chief of the biological department of the laboratory and did not get along well with his colleagues. He was also recently overlooked for promotion to the position of Head of the Laboratory with the hiring of an outsider, Dr. Howarth.

The tight security procedures at the laboratory would seem to indicate that the murderer had to be someone with inside knowledge of its workings. Due to the way Lorrimer belittled or resented his colleagues, there are no shortage of suspects. It also becomes evident that the murderer had to have a special set of skills in order to exit the laboratory after the crime. This was probably the most significant clue (it was only mentioned briefly in passing) to the solution which begins to be clear when witnesses are able to narrow down the time frame of the crime. But then there is yet another murder.

See book cover at https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/d/d0/DeathOfAnExpertWitness.jpg
Front cover of the original Faber & Faber hardcover edition (1977). Image sourced from Wikipedia.

I read Death of an Expert Witness as part of my continuing 2022 binge re-read of the P.D. James' Adam Dalgliesh and Cordelia Gray novels, which I am enjoying immensely. James is truely at the height of the Silver Age of Crime authors and puts most modern mystery writers to shame with her extensive character backgrounds and plots often set in confined communities where an atmosphere of paranoia and foreboding reign, until the cool, often detached detection of Dalgliesh is able to arrive at a clarifying solution.

Trivia and Links
* In Book 1, Adam Dalgliesh was a Detective Chief Inspector, in Books 2 to 4 he is a Detective Superintendent and in Books 5 to 14 he is a Detective Commander.

Death of an Expert Witness was adapted for television in 1983 as part of the long running Dalgliesh TV-series for Anglia Television/ITV (1983-1998) starring actor Roy Marsden as Commander Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard. You can watch the 7 episodes of the 1983 adaptation starting with Episode 1 on YouTube here. The adaptation is reasonably faithful to the novel.

The new Acorn TV-series reboot Dalgliesh (2021-?) starring Bertie Carver as Adam Dalgliesh has not yet filmed an adaptation of Death of an Expert Witness. It has not yet been announced which books are being adapted for Season 2 (as of early August 2022). Season 1 adapted Books 4, 5 & 7. ( )
  alanteder | Aug 3, 2022 |
Adam Dalgliesh is sent to a small town outside of Cambridge to investigate the murder of a forensic biologist, Dr Edwin Lorrimer. Brenda Pridmore, clerical officer receptionist, finds the body. Henry Kerrison is the forensic pathologist with two children, Maxim Howarth is the director of the forensic sciences laboratory with half-sister Domenica Schofield, Paul Middlemass is the principal scientific officer document examiner, Angela Foley is the secretary to Maxim Howarth and Dr. Lorrimer's cousin and supposed heir. Stella Mawson is Angela's partner and Lorimmer's former wife. ( )
  baughga | Jun 7, 2021 |
I registered this book at BookCrossing.com!

Murder in a laboratory.

Dr. Lorrimer was not loved. When he was found dead in the laboratory where he managed a section there weren't any mourners. There were many who wanted him gone.

But figuring out which of them had done the deed was no simple task. As it often is with P.D. James, the plot is complex and involves a fair number of persons, whom we get to know rather well. As does Adam Dalgliesh, who needs to find out which of them killed Lorrimer.

We get to track Lorrimer's relations with others in his lab, with persons on the outside, with those who are affected by his actions from a distance. PBS liked this one so much it became a small series on MYSTERY. ( )
  slojudy | Sep 8, 2020 |
I started out listening to the audio book version of [b:Death of an Expert Witness|3828|Death of an Expert Witness (Adam Dalgliesh, #6)|P.D. James|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1321172504s/3828.jpg|2441]. However, I quickly switched over to a hard copy borrowed from my local library. What a good choice! I fell in love with P.D. James when I read one of the later Dalgliesh mysteries. I quickly decided to start from the beginning of the series. I ALMOST changed my mind after the last couple books because I found them a little boring. After the first chapter in this one, I felt the same. I decided to see if the narrator was leading me to feel that way (think droning monotone voice). Yep, that was it! After starting the hard copy version, I couldn't put it down and can't wait to check out the next one.

P.D. James had such a knack for drawing in the reader by crafting a perfect mystery each and every time. Characters, showing true, deep emotions, tighten the bond with the reader. THIS is why she will always be a top name in mystery. ( )
  BookishHooker | Dec 16, 2019 |
Written in 1977, this book opens up with the murder of a young woman that the local coroner, Kerrison is sneaking out of his house to go to to pronounce that she is a murder victim. He doesn't want his teenage daughter or young son to hear him leave and worry. His daughter does anyway and gets up looks in on her brother something the live-in housekeeper Miss Willard never does. Dr. Kerrison is in a custody battle with his soon to be ex-wife who left him and his children for a colleague at his old job. Nell, the daughter expresses a hatred over a Dr. Lorrimer who heads up the biology department of the forensic science building named Hoggath after Dr. Hoggath who started it--the first one in all of England way out in the fens in East Anglia also known as the middle of nowhere.

Pretty soon, we meet Dr. Howath, the head of the lab who also hates Dr. Lorrimer for dating his half-sister, though she has since ended it. His feelings for his sister are complicated. They live together since the death of her husband in an auto accident. He wishes he were dead too. Oh, and Dr. Howarth got the job of head of the department over Dr. Lorrimer. Then there's Dr. Lormier's cousin Miss Angela Foley who works as Dr. Howarth's secretary who needs four thousand pounds to buy the house she's renting because the owner has decided to sell it and she and her girlfriend Sarah Mawson who is a novelist, but while a well-reviewed one, not a profitable one, don't want to move. When Lorrimer and Foley's grandmother died she refused to leave any of her 30,000 pounds to Foley because she was a girl. Lorrimer promised to leave the money to her in his will. But after his love affair with Domenica Schoefield, Dr. Howarth's sister he still believes that he can win her back and convince her to marry him so he changes his will to leave everything to set up a scholarship and 1,000 pounds to the young receptionist who works the desk, Barbara Pridmore whom he was encouraging to take her 'A' levels and pursue a career in science. Barbara was the only person who actually liked Dr. Lorrimier. No one knows that he's changed his will yet.

Then there was Dr. Middlemas, the documents expert who was asked by Clifford Bradley's wife to help out with Dr. Lorrimer who was putting down Bradley and giving him poor reviews. Dr. Lorrimer would make Dr. Bradley nervous and dejected by doing his results over constantly and being cold and hard to him. Dr. Lorrimer was harder on him because Bradley had just gotten promoted and Lorrimer believed he shouldn't be in the lab at all. Dr. Middlemas had a wife with a cousin who committed suicide over the working conditions Dr. Lorrimer put him under that caused him to lose his fiancee. Dr. Middlemas will be damned if he will let this happen again and the two get involved in fisticuffs resulting in Dr. Lorrimer having a busted nose and Dr. Middlemas having blood on his lab coat.

Of course, Dr. Lorrimer is found dead inside the lab with his head bashed in and Commander Dalgliesh is called in to investigate from London. He's working with Inspector Massingham again with this one. An interesting tidbit is that there is a gay couple as characters in a novel written by a prominent writer at this time period. Of course, no one in the book likes them and it's not necessarily because they're gay it's because of various other reasons. But when you're with them you can't help but like them and hope they get to keep the house. It hardly seems fair to pick on them for what seems to be their gayness. Dr. Lorrimer won't be the only murder in this book. Someone else will be murdered as well and this person won't be as well hated. This book just didn't grab me the way the others have and I really didn't like the way Foley and Mawson were treated. But it picked up toward the end and became a real page turner after the second body was found. I give it four out of five stars.


Look, mate, if you can’t make it in bed, if she isn’t finding you quite up to the mark, don’t take your frustration out on the rest of us. Remember Chesterfield’s advice. The expense is exorbitant, the position ridiculous, and the pleasure transitory.

-P.D. James (Death of an Expert Witness p 53)

Death obliterates family resemblance as it does personality; there is no affinity between the living and the dead.

-P.D. James (Death of an Expert Witness p 149)

Sex no longer had the power to shock him; love, he decided, obviously could.

-P.D. James (Death of an Expert Witness p 160)

“But he wasn’t asking for a commercial arrangement,” said Dalglisesh. “He was asking for love.” “That’s something I didn’t have to give, and he had no right to expect.” None of us, thought Dalgliesh, has a right to expect it. But we do.

-P.D. James (Death of an Expert Witness p 181)

The trouble with a religious education, if you’re a pagan like me, is that you’re left all your life feeling that you’ve lost something, not that it isn’t there.

-P.D. James (Death of an Expert Witness p 191)

They’ll tell you the most destructive force in the world is hate. Don’t you believe it, lad. It’s love.

-P.D. James (Death of an Expert Witness p 208) ( )
  nicolewbrown | Apr 22, 2019 |
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
P. D. Jamesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dellaporta, PenelopeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Manchess, GregoryCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Müller, WolfdietrichTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mustieles Rebullida, Jorge LuisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mustieles, JordiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mustieles, Jorge LuisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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An evil-tempered forensic scientist is put to death, putting many of his colleagues out of misery. Commander Adam Dalgliesh must exhume the secrets of Dr. Lorrimer's laboratory in order to lay bare the murderous motive hidden in one human heart.

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