27 December 2008


faber and faber, 2008, 395 pages, ISBN 978-0-571-24244-3

We know right from the start of this novel that 47 year old Rhoda Gradwyn is only 23 days away from being murdered. She has decided to have a leading plastic surgeon remove a disfiguring facial scar that she has had for over 30 years. She goes to the surgeon's private clinic at Cheverell Manor in Dorset to have the operation. The operation is a success, but only hours later Rhoda Gradwyn is dead, throttled.

This is an Adam Dalgleish book and James' fans have been waiting since the publication of THE LIGHTHOUSE in 2005 for the next. We are reminded of that book several times by the investigative team. THE LIGHTHOUSE was a variant on the closed room mystery: an island cut off from the mainland by bad weather with seemingly no-one coming and going, so the murderer had to be on the island. (see my mini-review: my rating was 5.0)

What we have in THE PRIVATE PATIENT it seems is a variant of the same sort of scenario, only this time using an English country house as the backdrop. Cheverell Manor isn't quite as isolated as Combe Island was, but the list of possible perpetrators is limited. Many in the cast of characters have secrets to hide, the Manor itself was locked at the pertinent times, but there is a local legend about the nearby standing stones, just to complicate things.

The thing that struck me most about THE PRIVATE PATIENT is how thoroughly it was plotted. I found it slow reading but I didn't grudge the time. P. D. James takes care of all her characters. Adam Dalgliesh is on the brink of marriage, and it seems that he is also on the cusp of a career change, with every likelihood that his Murder Squad will be redeployed after this case is finalised. Kate Miskin is due for promotion in the very near future, very likely to head her own team. James explores not only the relationships between the residents of Cheverell Manor, but also the way in which the members of Dalgliesh's team work together.

So, yes, THE PRIVATE PATIENT is a very satisfying read, P.D. James still among the best.

My rating: 4.9

Remarkably James is now 88 years old, and this is the 14th in the Adam Dalgliesh series. The series began 46 years ago, and James chose not to age Dalgliesh in "real time", and thus avoided the problems that Ian Rankin and Ruth Rendell have had to face with their aging detectives.

Nevertheless we could be forgiven for wondering if Dalgliesh will make a 15th appearance. I hope so.

The following list is courtesy of Fantastic Fiction.
1. Cover Her Face (1962)
2. A Mind to Murder (1963)
3. Unnatural Causes (1967)
4. Shroud for a Nightingale (1971)
5. The Black Tower (1975)
6. Death of an Expert Witness (1977)
7. A Taste for Death (1986)
8. Devices and Desires (1989)
9. Original Sin (1994)
10. A Certain Justice (1997)
11. Death in Holy Orders (2001)
12. The Murder Room (2003)
13. The Lighthouse (2005)
14. The Private Patient (2008)


Ladytink_534 said...

The Lighthouse sounds a bit like the setting of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. I haven't read anything by this author but that is impressive that he's still writing!

Kerrie said...

P.D. James is a woman Ladytink. Well worth your attention. A new series to start?
On the scenario bit - I think that many authors play with specific scenarios - Ten Little Niggers/And Then There Were None is Aggie playing around with a locked room scenario too.

Anonymous said...

great blog - I share your interest in all things crime fiction

I lov James's books, but found the ending deeply unsatisfying - who was she covering up for??

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the book but couldn't figure out who committed the second murder, and it's driving me crazy. Help!


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