Original Sin by P.D. James
I like P.D. James.
I like detective stories.
Ergo, I ought to have liked this book, and I did. (I stayed up too late more than once while I was reading it!) I also like my fiction laced with philosophy, and James obliges this taste, too.
Aside from the basic murder story, which must be solved because Adam Dalgliesh (detective and published poet) is on the case, this is a book about atheism. I was rather surprised by all the references to religion and atheism, but that's because I don't always pay attention to things I should: the title of the book is Original Sin, after all.
You've got dyed-in-the-wool atheists, a Jewish atheists (who feels he ought to apologize to God for not believing in him--traditional Jewish guilt), Anglican atheists, and, finally, not-atheists.
I'm still not sure I have entirely grasped P.D. James's message, but this is what I think it is. Man requires a god. Rejecting Diety by refusing to believe in it (as if that makes a difference) means that something else will stand in first place, and most often, that is man himself. In this book, we see various characters "playing God"--making judgments that are not truly theirs to make.
One of the characters--the murderer, and one of the atheists--declares, "I don't believe that our existence here has a meaning or that we have any future after death. Since there is no God there can be no divine justice. We have to make justice for ourselves and make it here on earth." (Oddly enough, I'm not sure the concept of justice has any meaning at all apart from divine authority.)
And he is answered, "If you want to act like God, you should first ensure that you have the wisdom and knowledge of God." Because he has made a terrible mistake, and the "justice" that he thought he was enacting was no justice at all.
One of the characters observes a couple of people praying in church, and "wondered what it was they found in this quiet place and whether, if he had come with more humility, he might have found it also."
Bingo, P.D. James. One passing sentence in a 425-page book, but she nailed it. Humility is out of fashion, but wisdom and faith demand it.
This wasn't the best P.D. James novel I've ever read, but I'm not sorry I read it. My February list of books to show that I've been reading a lot of less worthy books! Nevertheless, it was a worthwhile story and one I wouldn't hesitate to recommend.