Crime Fiction Alphabet: P is for P D James

This week’s letter in Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet is the letter P. My choice is The Private Patient by P D James. I like the fact that not only does the author’s name begin with P (for Phyllis) but the title also has a double ‘P’.

Description from the back cover

When the notorious investigative journalist Rhoda Gradwyn books into Mr Chandler-Powell’s private clinic in Dorset for the removal of a disfiguring and long-standing scar, she has every prospect of a successful operation by a distinguished surgeon, a week’s peaceful convalescence in one of Dorset’s most beautiful manor houses, and the beginning of a new life. She was never to leave Cheverell Manor alive. Dalgliesh and his team, called in to investigate the murder, and later a second death, are confronted with problems even more complicated than the question of innocence or guilt.

My view

This book is not a quick, easy read. It took me several days of slow, careful reading to absorb the details of this complex book. All the characters are described in detail. Rhoda is described as a private person as well as being the private patient. She has a painstakingly probing personality – ideal for an investigative journalist:

Neither dislike nor respect worried her. She had her own private life, an interest in finding out what others kept hidden, in making discoveries. Probing into other people’s secrets became a lifelong obsession, the substratum and direction of her whole career. She became a stalker of minds. (page 8 )

The novel is built up very slowly and methodically and it is only after nearly 100 pages that Rhoda is murdered and Commander Adam Dalgleish and his team are called to the Manor to investigate her death. Dalgleish is preparing for his marriage to Emma Lavenham and his  first thoughts are that maybe he’d had enough of murder. Although it wasn’t the most horrific corpse he’d seen he thought it

… seemed to hold a career’s accumulation of pity, anger and impotence. (page 138)

There are many suspects – a group of seven people in the Manor any of whom could have killed Rhoda – Chandler-Powell, Sister Holland, Helena Cressett, whose family had previously owned the Manor for more than 400 years, Letitia Frensham, Helena’s old governess now working at the Manor as book keeper, the cook and his wife, Dean and Kimberley Bostock and the domestic helper, Sharon Bateman. Marcus Westhall, the surgical assistant and his sister Candace, although they lived in the nearby Stone Cottage, also had access to the Manor and then there was Robin Boyton (the Westhall’s cousin) who was staying at Rose Cottage. He had recommended the Manor to Rhoda.

Dalgleish and his team interview all the suspects and discover many secrets and connections, delving into their lives. The clues are all there, but despite paying close attention as I read, it was only near the end of the book that I worked out who was responsible for the murders. This is a thoughtful book, with precise descriptions of people and places and yet it is tense and dramatic. I enjoyed it.

The Private Patient

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (24 Sep 2009)
  • ISBN-10: 014103923X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141039237
  • Source: I bought it

8 thoughts on “Crime Fiction Alphabet: P is for P D James

  1. Hi Margaret,

    Yeah!!! I have this book in my TBR pile, so I am off to a flying start with the new regime. What’s the betting I will have lapsed within the week?


  2. Margaret – Thanks for this fine review. You made a good choice for “P,” I think :-). I like the Dalgliesh series, and I think in general that James takes a more thoughtful and detailed approach to tying together the threads of a plot. I rather like that about her work.


  3. P.D. James’ books are always deeper than the average mystery and her characters more defined. I’ve been half in love with Dalgliesh for years.


  4. Few are are good at both characters and plotting as P D James. Thank you for reminding me of so much about this book, that I liked very much, without giving too much away.


  5. Another author who I used to read a lot of and love…and have not read in a long time. I really should catch up.


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