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A Certain Justice Summary
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of A Certain Justice by P.D. James.
A Certain Justice (1997) is a crime novel with mystery elements by P.D. James. The 10th book in the Adam Dalgliesh series, it follows the series’ protagonist as he struggles to find out who murdered a prominent criminal lawyer before the murderer strikes again. The book received widespread critical praise for its attention to detail and complex character development. Baroness James was a popular mystery and crime novelist best known for the Adam Dalgliesh series. She left school at 16 and worked in hospital administration for many years before working as a civil servant for the British Department of Home Affairs.
A Certain Justice takes place in London, England. Commander Adam Dalgliesh, a high-ranking officer in the Metropolitan Police Service, works on the most sensitive cases. When he’s not resolving these unsolved cases, he writes poetry or spends time alone. It is a stressful job and he needs the time to unwind.
Kate, Dalgliesh’s second in command, is everything Dalgliesh is not. Loud, brash, and opinionated, she is conscious of being a woman in a male-dominated world. Unlike Dalgliesh, she comes from a poor background, and she feels she has more to prove. However, although they clash sometimes, they make a good team.
The murder victim in this case is Venetia Aldridge QC. A prominent criminal defense barrister in London’s prestigious legal circuit, she works out of Middle Temple Chambers. Venetia knows that she is not the most popular lawyer because she defends guilty people, but she doesn’t think that anyone hates her enough to murder her.
When the book begins, although Venetia doesn’t know it yet, she has only four weeks left to live. Her last case is defending Garry Ashe, a young man accused of brutally murdering his aunt. She knows that he is guilty, but all that matters is clearing his name and maintaining her impressive track record. Despite a public outcry, Venetia successfully defends Garry and he walks free.
Just a few weeks later, colleagues find Venetia’s dead body. Someone stabbed her to death at her desk, placing a bloodstained wig on her head. Called in to investigate the crime scene, Dalgliesh immediately begins by looking into Venetia’s recent case history, her personal relationships, and her relationships with work colleagues.
The problem for Dalgliesh is that almost everyone in Middle Temple Chambers has a motive to kill Venetia. There’s Drysdale, a man competing with Venetia to take over Chambers. There’s also Catherine, a beautiful young lawyer who can’t stand Venetia. Venetia promised to sack Catherine if she ever gained control of Chambers, which makes her a prime suspect.
The third suspect is Valerie Caldwell. Valerie begged Venetia to help her brother when the police arrested him, but Venetia refused. She thought the case was beneath her, and Valerie’s brother went to prison for a long time. The case almost broke Valerie’s family apart; alongside Catherine, she is a top suspect.
The final suspects are Simon Costello and his wife, Lois. Venetia found out about irregularities in Simon’s casework, and she planned to expel him. Lois threatened Venetia on more than one occasion. Although the other suspects are significant, Dalgliesh suspects that Simon and Lois are the ones responsible.
However, as the case unravels, there’s another intriguing possibility. Dalgliesh’s colleagues find out that Garry Ashe recently proposed to Venetia’s daughter, Octavia. The sole heir to Venetia’s estate, now, everyone thinks that Garry murdered Venetia to get Octavia’s money. Dalgliesh knows that they have only circumstantial evidence, and although it’s compelling, it is not enough to arrest him yet.
Although Octavia feels bad about her mother’s death, she has her own issues. She felt that Venetia neglected her. Venetia always put her career before Octavia or her father. She knows that Garry isn’t perfect, but he feels like a kindred spirit. He knows what parental neglect feels like, and it doesn’t make him a bad person. However, Octavia admits that Venetia planned to stop the relationship, which now makes her another significant person of interest.
Dalgliesh finds Venetia’s decision to defend Garry very interesting. If she had let Garry go down for his crimes, he would never get out of prison again. Octavia wouldn’t marry him, and she would move on. Dalgliesh wonders if Venetia, for once, put her own daughter’s happiness before anyone else’s. Kate looks at it differently. She suspects it is just another example of Venetia putting her record of accomplishment before her own daughter’s safety.
Just as Dalgliesh and the team close in on Garry, something unexpected happens—Garry turns up dead. Dalgliesh realizes that this is one of those rare cases where he knows who the murderer is, but he dies before anyone can bring him to justice. Once the team finds Garry’s confession letter, they close the case. Kate wonders if there is a certain justice to Venetia dying by Garry’s hand.