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Book Review: An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P D James

If you feel like a quaint, old-world detective novel, you might be tempted to pick up this 1972 mystery by the much loved crime writer, P D James. It has some of the classic cosy tropes: a young private investigator who has just inherited a detective agency; a scenic setting, i.e., the bucolic outskirts of Cambridge (reminiscent of James Runcie’s Grantchester series); a bunch of family secrets and other slow revelations. 

Cordelia Gray is only 22 when she finds her employer dead by his own hand - he’s got terminal cancer and decides to quit while he’s ahead. There are bills to pay and nothing on the books when she gets her first sole-charge case. Environmental scientist, Sir Ronald Callender, wants Cordelia to discover why his son, Mark, killed himself. He had dropped out of university and was found hanging in the run-down cottage where he worked as a gardener.

Cordelia finds she can save money on accommodation and get to learn more about the deceased by staying in the creepy cottage. She interviews Mark’s so-called friends - posh Cambridge students who aren’t all that nice - as well as uncovering facts about Mark’s family life. Mark seems to have had a fairly loveless life all round, yet still seems to have been a really nice guy. Cordelia isn’t the only one to suspect that this is a murder done up like a suicide.

It all comes together in a twisty way with plenty of danger involving an old well, a gun and even a car chase but our plucky young heroine remains determined to the last. It’s all good fun but unlike many books in this genre, you get James’s masterful way with language. There’s a connection to the Inspector Dalgliesh books too - Cordelia’s ex-boss Bernie was once an officer under the inspector’s command and peppered his speech with the top cop’s wisdom. 

I really enjoyed the book as a light, entertaining read. Cordelia is an appealing character - James gave her another outing in the novel: The Skull Beneath the Skin, but then carried on with the Dalgliesh books instead. I downloaded this book as a e-audiobook from the library’s e-library and Katie Scarfe is just right as the narrator.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: An Unsuitable Job for a Woman

25 August 2021

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