An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (P.D. James)

ISBN: 0446315176
Publisher: Warner Books 1998
Pages: 287
Links: WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder

And the next instalment in my women detective series (coincidentally also written by women).

Cordelia Gray becomes proprietor of a detective agency rather unexpectedly – her partner, Bernie Pryde, slits his wrists one day, very thoughtfully ensuring that by doing so she gets custody of his gun. Cordelia spends a few days sorting through matters, to realise very quickly that the failing agency is a month away from completely going under – it’s clear that she needs business, quick.

Returning to her premises one day, she is led to her first job- handsome young Mark Callender drops out of Cambridge and takes a job as a gardener with a large house close by, chosing to live in a rundown cottage on the property, rather than go back home. A few weeks later, he’s found hanging from the ceiling of the cottage. Mark’s father, renowned and respected scientist, Sir Ronald Callender, wants Cordelia to find out why he committed suicide.

Cordelia drives across to Mark’s temporary abode, and falls in love with the cottage. She speaks to his friends, his lovers and even tracks down his mother’s old nurse, and in the course of her investigations, begins to deeply empathise with the dead boy.

This is a very different type of murder mystery than say Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers.

The milieu of those stories is cosy, genteel (even aristocratic in the case of Sayers) and quite proper. Sex is always hinted at, never more, violence is not described in any great detail, and perversions, if any, are very run of the mill. James’ books are far grittier and graphic, perhaps also stemming from the fact that Cordelia James is a professional detective and this is her livelihood, not an intriguing little hobby.

Cordelia is also a different type of detective from James’ usual, Adam Dalgleish. Tentative, unskilled and instinctive, through her workings we understand some of the nitty gritties behind detective work.

James endows Cordelia with enough of a history and background to make her an interesting character in her own right. James only ended up writing two Cordelia James novels, but they’re both worth the read.

Maya Chandrasekaran

Maya Chandrasekaran

Director - Strategic Partnerships at
"I'm a confessed bookaholic, but haven't had the nerve (or ingenuity) to make a career out of that. So I do the next best thing - I spend my free time reading, buying, borrowing and discussing books... and books about books."

Maya always has three books going at the same time - a different book for every mood. She loves exploring new authors, but every now and then she sinks back into the comfort of old favourites like murder mysteries and Regency romances. A corporate butterfly, Maya lives and works in Bangalore, India.
Maya Chandrasekaran

Latest posts by Maya Chandrasekaran (see all)

What's your opinion?