Category Archives: James, P.D.

P.D. James: Cordelia Gray and Adam Dalgleish

An Unsuitable Job for a WomanAn Unsuitable Job for a Woman
by P.D. James
Rating: ★★★
Series: Cordelia Gray #1
Publication Date: January 1, 1972
Genre: crime, mystery
Pages: 256
ReRead?: Yes
Project: a century of women

Handsome Cambridge dropout Mark Callender died hanging by the neck with a faint trace of lipstick on his mouth. When the official verdict is suicide, his wealthy father hires fledgling private investigator Cordelia Gray to find out what led him to self-destruction. What she discovers instead is a twisting trail of secrets and sins, and the strong scent of murder. An Unsuitable Job for a Woman introduces P. D. James's courageous but vulnerable young detective, Cordelia Gray, in a top-rated puzzle of peril that holds you all the way

This is the first book in the Cordelia Gray duology. Cordelia Gray is P.D. James’s less well-known sleuth: a young private detective who more or less inherits a nearly bankrupt business when her mentor and former “partner” dies by suicide unexpectedly at the beginning of the book. She decides to carry on, and accepts her first case, which requires that she travel to Cambridge to try to determine why the young son of a prominent scientist has also committed suicide.

While I enjoyed this book, I don’t think that this book is nearly as good as her Adam Dalgleish series, which I am in the process of rereading. I’m sure I’ll pick up the sequel to this one, just for the sake of completion.

Death of an Expert WitnessDeath of an Expert Witness
by P.D. James
Rating: ★★★★
Series: Adam Dalgleish #6
Publication Date: January 1, 1977
Genre: crime, mystery
Pages: 368
ReRead?: Yes

Dr. Lorrimer appeared to be the picture of a bloodless, coldly efficient scientist. Only when his brutally slain body is discovered and his secret past dissected does the image begin to change. Once again, Chief Inspector Adam Dalgliesh learns that there is more to human beings than meets the eye -- and more to solving a murder than the obvious clues.

This installment in the Dalgleish series was really good. The victim, Dr. Lorrimer, is deeply, deeply unlikeable: bitter, mean, angry, and self-absorbed. While they aren’t any really great motives here, all of his acquaintances had some reason to dislike the victim. When he is bludgeoned to death in the lab, everyone is a suspect.

P.D. James develops the various characters – from the lab assistant that Lorrimer has tormented into a nervous breakdown, his colleagues, all of whom loathe him, his cousin, Angela, who is involved in a relationship with a woman and who was cut from her grandmother’s will in favor of Lorrimer, when she could very much have benefited from a legacy, to his lover, who has lost interest in him but he can’t let go.

Any of them had reason to have murdered him.

I didn’t solve the mystery, but I wasn’t surprised by the solution. The biggest surprise was that the victim lived as long as he did, given how horrible he was to the people around him.

Unnatural Causes by P.D. James

Unnatural CausesUnnatural Causes
by P.D. James
Series: Adam Dalgleish #3
Publication Date: May 20, 1967
Genre: mystery
Pages: 218
Project: a century of women

Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh had been looking forward to a quiet holiday at his aunt's cottage on Monksmere Head, one of the furthest-flung spots on the remote Suffolk coast. With nothing to do other than enjoy long wind-swept walks, tea in front of the crackling wood fire and hot buttered toast, Dalgliesh was relishing the thought of a well-earned break.

However, all hope of peace is soon shattered by murder. The mutilated body of a local crime writer, Maurice Seaton, floats ashore in a drifting dinghy to drag Adam Dalgliesh into a new and macabre investigation.

This is the third Adam Dalgleish book, and was a library check out for me. I decided to revisit P.D. James this year as part of my “Century of Women” project. Unnatural Causes is the third in the series, and was published in 1967.

This is my favorite book so far because it was so cleverly plotted. The victim is a mystery writer, and is found in circumstances that feel like something out of his next planned book. Well after his death, an envelope containing the typed opening of his next book is received, and it echoes the circumstances in which his body was found, and was obviously typed on the victim’s own typewriter.

Adam Dalgleish is is involved because he has gone to Suffolk to visit his aunt, a respected amateur ornithologist, lifelong spinster, and extremely self-contained woman. The victim was one of her neighbors, and her small circle of neighbors all have a motive to murder. Dalgleish is also trying to decide what to do about his romantic relationship, which has reached a critical juncture and he must decide if he is going to ask the woman to marry him or end the relationship all together. Aunt Jane lives in an isolated cottage on the Suffolk coast, so there is a lot of discussion about remote coastal landscapes that look something like this:


The way that the solution to the mystery is presented isn’t completely successful, in my opinion. The end of the book is basically a transcription of a long, somewhat rambling, recorded confession left behind by the murderer. This type of device has a tendency to drag on, and it does so here, but it’s a relatively small quibble. Otherwise, the book is extremely cleverly done, and the meta elements are a lot of fun.