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P.D. James, who I believe it was Julian Symons nicknamed The Queen of Crime, is best known for her Adam Dalgliesh series, about a dour Scotland Yard inspector.  But nearly forgotten amidst the popularity of women writers like Sue Grafton and Linda Barnes is her role as one of the creators of the woman private eye.  Her Cordelia Gray is the progenitor of many of the subsequent female sleuths.  Gray, is the parentless, friendless, very junior partner in a seedy investigative firm.  But when her mentor Bernie Pryde kills himself, leaving her the agency and an unregistered firearm, she must fend for herself despite her lack of experience, minimal training,  relative physical frailty and emotional isolation.  The little she does know about investigative techniques came to her second hand in the form of platitudes that Bernie had learned from Dalgliesh during their brief time together, Pryde was let go for lack of ability, with the Criminal Investigations Division.

With little hope of keeping the business going, Cordelia accepts a job looking into the suicide of Ronald Callender's son Mark.  In an American mystery, you can usually follow Deep Throat's admonition and "follow the money," or the Black Bird as the case may be.  But in British mysteries, money is seldom the motive, never the sole motive.  The sallow complected, snaggle toothed, tannin stained British are so psychosexually traumatized by the time they've been thoroughly beaten and sodomized in prep school, that the reason for the crime usually revolves around love, hate, jealousy, or some other primal emotion.  Moreover, the society is so insular, socialist, class bound and stratified, that money won't do anyone much good anyway.  It's not like money will enable you to move up the social ladder or escape a gothically conflicted family.  But, no author is better at portraying the hothouse environment of British society than James.  As the mannered Kabuki dance of English gentry life in manor houses and university unfolds, Gray peels back the layers of the onion (there, that's my entry in this month's mixed metaphor contest) to find that Mark was murdered and the disturbing circumstances of his death.

I prefer my detective fiction a little more hard-boiled than James serves it up, but this is still an excellent variation on the English drawing room mystery.


Grade: (B+)


See also:

P.D. James (2 books reviewed)
Private Eyes
P.D. James Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: P. D. James
-AUTHOR SITE: P. D. James (Random House)
    -Featured Author: P. D. James: With News and Reviews From the Archives of The New York Times
    -BIO: PD JAMES (1920-) (Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Murder Most Foul (P. D. James, Paris Review) -INTERVIEW: PD James, Queen of Detective Fiction: Interview: PD James talks to Jake Kerridge about detective fiction, her new book, and the technical problems of murder (Jake Kerridge, 9/26/09, Daily Telegraph)
    -INTERVIEW: A Mystery of Iniquity (Modern Age) (PDF)
    -INTERVIEW: Reasons for writing - detective novelists P.D. James (Trudy Bush, Sept 27, 2000, Christian Century)
    -ESSAY: PD James’s detection of the deepest mysteries: We are drawn to detective fiction because it shows that individual crimes can be solved by rational means — confirming our hope that peace and order can be restored from disruption and chaos. (Ralph Wood, Jun 24, 2022, MercatorNet)
-ESSAY: “The uncertain justice of men”: P.D. James’s detection of the deepest mysteries (Ralph C. Wood, 7 Feb 2022, ABC Religion & Ethics)
    -ESSAY: Murder, morals and motives P. D. James at 100 (Rohan Maitzen, TLS)
    -ESSAY: P. D. JAMES: A CRIME READER’S GUIDE TO THE CLASSICS: She refined the crime novel to its dark, poetic core and created a roster of iconic detectives along the way (NEIL NYREN, 7/02/20, CrimeReads)
    -ESSAY: A case for P.D. James as a Christian novelist (Ralph C Wood, 1/01/03, Theology Today)
    -ESSAY: Deep mysteries - christian liberalism in the works of P.D. James (Ralph C. Wood, Sept 27, 2000, Christian Century)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Rapidly Rises the Morning Tide: An Essay on P. D. James's The Children of Men (Ralph C. Wood, Theology Today)
    -ARCHIVES: FindArticles > All Publications > Results for "p. d. james"
    -ESSAY: Engendering the Apocalypse: Contemporary Visions of the Apocalypse (Marguerite Harkness, Virginia Commonwealth University)
    -ESSAY: An Empty Future? (Roberto Rivera y Carlo, Boundless)
    -REVIEW: of Children of Men (Walter Wangerin, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Children of Men (James Sallis, The Los Angeles Times)
    -REVIEW: of Children of Men (S. Mark Heim, Christian Century)
    -REVIEW: of Children of Men (Penni Crabtree, National Catholic Reporter)
    -REVIEW: of Children of Men (Molly Finn, Commonweal)
    -REVIEW: of Children of Men (Frederick Meekins, Junto Society)
    -REVIEW: of The Lighthouse by PD James (LUCY HUGHES-HALLETT, Sunday Times of London) FILM:
    -INFO: The Children of Men (2007) (IMDB)
-FILM REVIEW: Children of Men (Simon Matthews, Lion & Unicorrn)

Book-related and General Links:
    -History of Mystery: Phyllis Dorothy James (1920 - )
    -INTERVIEW : A mind to murder : PD James is the grande dame of British crime writing. She's also a fully paid-up member of the great and good, with a taste for shopping, Jane Austen and shortbread. (Amanda Mitchison, Daily Telegraph)
    -INTERVIEW: The Baroness of Quiet Murder (Nicholas A. Basbanes, Lit Kit)
    -INTERVIEW:  The Salon Interview: P.D. James (Jennifer Reese, Salon)
    -INTERVIEW: PD James (Home Arts)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: P.D. James on the unlikeable victim: British mistress of mystery P.D. James spoke to CBC Radio's 'The Arts Today' in 1997 about her novel, A Certain Justice. Here she reveals why the murder victim in her story is so unlikeable. ( CBC Radio 1999)
    -Cordelia Gray Created by P.D. James (Thrilling Detectives)
    -P.D. James Biblio & short reviews
    -Women of Mystery (Bookaholic)
    -PROFILE: It's about crime: And P. D. James has proved to be an expert on the subject (BRIAN GORMAN, Ottawa Sun)
    -ESSAY: THE QUEEN OF CRIME: P.D. JAMES (Julian Symons, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: Cult of the Mystery: Rituals and Byways (AMY CLYDE, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Women Writers: Coming of Age at 50 (Carolyn G. Heilbrun, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: TELEVISION; Investigating the Darker Corners of The Criminal Mind  (MARILYN STASIO, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of ORIGINAL SIN By P. D. James (Michael Malone, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of ORIGINAL SIN By P. D. James (NY Times)
    -REVIEW: P.D.James  Original Sin (Tangled Web)
    -REVIEW: of A CERTAIN JUSTICE By P. D. James (Ben Macintyre, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of A TASTE FOR DEATH By P. D. James (Robert B. Parker, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of A TASTE FOR DEATH. By P. D. James (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of DEVICES AND DESIRES By P. D. James (Judith Crist, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Devices and Desires By P. D. James  (CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of THE SKULL BENEATH THE SKIN By P.D. James  (Julian Symons, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE CHILDREN OF MEN By P. D. James (Walter Wangerin Jr., NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE MAUL AND THE PEAR TREE. The Ratcliffe Highway Murders 1811 By P. D. James and T. A. Critchley (JOHN GROSS, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of THE MAUL AND THE PEAR TREE The Ratcliffe Highway Murders 1811. By P. D. James and T. A. Critchley (Thomas Maeder, NY Times Book Review)

    -Unsuitable Job for a Woman (Mystery, PBS)
    -REVIEW: of PBS version (Salon)

    -Dangerous Dames: A Timeline of Some of the Major Female Eyes (Thrilling Detectives)
    -The Reader's Corner presents  Female Sleuths
    -ARTICLE: The female dick:  How three hard-boiled writers have retooled the mystery novel for
 women. (Jacqueline Carey, Salon)