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Unnatural Causes (Adam Dalgliesh #3)

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  6,863 ratings  ·  263 reviews
The third installment in the classic Adam Dalgliesh mystery series, Unnnatural Causes is another must-read page-turner from bestselling author P.D. James, “the reigning mistress of murder” (Time).

Maurice Seton was a famous mystery writer—but no murder he ever invented was more grisly than his own death. When his corpse is found in a drifting d
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ebook, 272 pages
Published April 17th 2012 by Touchstone (first published 1967)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Cheryl
When a minor detective writer's decaying corpse is found in a dinghy off the eastern coast of England, the small writer's community of Monksmere is shocked and perplexed. The official cause of death is natural, but could something more sinister be at play...especially since the dead man's hands were cut off?

P.D. James, in her third Adam Dalgliesh novel, fleshes out the character of the Commander. The Scotland Yard detective is visiting his aunt Jane on the Suffolk shore to ponder the complexitie
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Starling
This book was published in 1967 and was the 3rd book in the Dalgliesh series. Back then a mystery novel was expected to be in the 200 page range, and this one was at 205 pages less than half as long as the last P.D. James book I read which was written in the 21st Century.

I'm pretty sure that my feeling that the book was ended as quickly as the author could arrange it was, in part, due to the fact that she only had 200 pages available to her. The explanation of the mystery is made by a taped conf
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Laura
Although P.D. James is an excellent writer and her mysteries are interesting and intelligent, I just can't seem to warm up to Adam Dalgliesh. He's such a cold fish and it doesn't help that he--or James, through him--seems to have a certain disdain for the audience, who are the "suspects" in Dalgliesh's case and the reader in James's case.

In this mystery, James avoids a typical "reveal" where Dalgliesh sits everyone down and lets them and the reader know how and why the crime occurred. Instead,
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Daniel
A short take:

I am sad to write that this book is my least favorite of the first three Dalgliesh books. I pined for a more urban location--London circa the late 60s would have been a far more interesting setting--and I lost interest in the cast of suspects. The finale is droll and disappointing: I know James is a better writer. The one ingredient that kept me involved was, of course, Dalgliesh.

I am seriously considering following this book with the next volume--which I don't often do in this gen
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Lori
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Fran
In this third Adam Dalgleish mystery, I've come to realize that with P.D. James, the pleasure is in the prose and the characters, not so much in solving the mystery. Unlike some writers who plant clues and red herrings so the reader can attempt to keep up with the detective and solve the case, James' mysteries (at least those I've read so far) end in unpredictable ways because they hinge on information the reader cannot know or predict. Usually I find a mystery that springs information on the re ...more
Andrew
I think this is the best P. D. James I've read so far. The story is a ripper. It has a surprising metafictional quality to it due to the fact that most of the characters are writers and the victim is a mystery writer. This gives the reader some rather enjoyable moments of irony and self-referential playfulness. James's writing is, as always, absolutely great--intelligent without overshadowing the story or bringing too much attention to itself. The first few pages in particular are deliciously en ...more
jennifer
This is the third of the Adam Dalgliesh series. I've read the first but not the second, but that hasn't lessened the story here at all.

Dalgliesh is looking forward to a few weeks of relaxation during his holiday at the seashore with his aunt at her cottage. She lives in a small village that seems to house nothing but writers, a place where everyone enjoys their solitude. But as soon as he arrives a writer is murdered,the corpse mutilated and Dalgliesh finds himself at odds with the local Inspect
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Jim
I've always enjoyed reading books by P.D. James, especially when I travel. This murder mystery takes place in an isolated British writers' community inhabited by some quirky residents. A writer is found in a boat that drifts ashore with his hands cut off. Vacationing Scotland yard detective superintendent Adam Dalgliesh is sucked into the case because he is staying with his aunt in the area at the time.

Unnatural Causes is not the best of the Dalgliesh novels, but it is quite good.
Silvio111
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sara
I very much enjoyed the quality of the prose but found it difficult to sympathize with any of the characters. Even Dalgliesh and his Aunt–both of whom seem to have more dimension that the other flat, insipid, self absorbed residents of Monksmere Head–were provided with so little context and backstory that I felt very little connection. Aunt Jane seemed to be someone I would like to know better, but James never provides the reader with the chance in this book. And the revelation of the murderer a ...more
Eloy Eduardo
Finally a work by P. D. James that I feel is beyond average. Curiously, this novel is very early, from 1967. Maybe it works better because the murdered is a writer, and all the suspects are writers, intellectuals and/or gays, all of whom make very entertaining characters.
Nancy
I was disappointed by the book, probably because the author had been highly praised both by my husband and various members of my reading group. I thought the ending was bad—everything wrapped up in a confession tape. She says Dalgliesh had things figured out before hand, but doesn’t let us know how he came to his conclusions. I didn’t find myself particularly fond of any of the characters, unless it was Dalgliesh’s Aunt Jane, who plays a minor role, more of a device just to get him to Monksmere ...more
Jessica
One of P.D. James' early ones. Well-written but as with other James's, the murder seems overly complicated and the motive less than convincing.

I've read three of hers recently, and I think she's gotten better with her later police procedurals. But, a few things seem to be constants:
~there will be at least one more murder after the initial one
~the community from which the murderer will be found is tight and isolated: an island, a group of judges, a small oceanside town.
~the death will be complica
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Debbi
In the end it was an excellent mystery and PD James writes some interesting characters. That said, I'm beginning dislike Dalgliesh after this novel (my 3rd AD novel). In this one he seems to have saved up all his dislike of humanity and private judgements against them. He didn't seem to have much compassion for any of the other characters - including his Aunt and his girlfriend.

The last Dalgliesh novel I read he was barely in it because he got sick (The Lighthouse), now I'm wondering if that's w
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Christy
I REALLY wrestled with how to rate this one. I've been putting it off for days, but here we go. The story starts off with a descriptive observation of a corpse in a suit, as it floats out to sea in a boat. This was a rather unique beginning. The first 2 thirds of the book are entertaining and enjoyable and I considered it a solid 3 star book. Nothing too outrageous, just a corpse who died of "natural" causes, and, oh yes, someone chopped off the hands. Since Dalgliesh is technically on vacation, ...more
Taetia
Apr 03, 2014 Taetia rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
In Unnatural Causes, P.D. James leads the reader into a fictional world in which famous writer Maurice Seton has just been murdered and the whole of a small community of writers are now living in suspicion and fear awaiting either the next murder, the capture, or both.

Adam Dalgliesh is ostensibly the hero of this story. However, from the beginning I recognized that the "un-involvement" he accuses his aunt of after the unveiling the murderer describes the entirety of his attitude both towards hi
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Michael A
She keeps getting better with each new novel.

In fact, this one reminds me a lot of "Have His Carcase," where similar issues of self-reference are explored in the mystery genre. I would advise you to check out that Sayers novel if you liked this book.

Anyhow, let's examine some parallels. This one has a similary convoluted solution as the Sayers one. More, this is loaded with all sorts of self-referential little tidbits. The first victim is writer of detective fiction that has to have verisimilitu
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Kyrie
That was depressing. Okay, murder shouldn't be uplifting, I admit, but this one was just melancholy and got sadder as it went on.

Dalgliesh goes on a holiday after a grueling case and is staying with his aunt in Sussex when a body is found in a dinghy. The hands have been cut off. While the local police don't call him in to help, or even really want his help, they're willing enough to listen to a colleague. Especially since the colleague is more or less part of the group of suspects.

I had a diff
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Nancy
A famous writer, a member of a small community of people in the writing world and all inhabiting remote houses on the Sussex headlands, goes missing and then is found, dead of a heart attack and floating in a small sailing boat, with both his hands chopped off. Dalgleish is visiting his aunt, and well-known amateur ornithologist and is drawn in to the investigation. Not overly long but well-detailed and ending with a fascinating confession from one of the most arrogantly bitter characters I've m ...more
Kate
"The peaceful village of Monksmere on the Suffolk coast was Superintendent Adam Dalgleish's retreat from the daily brutality he had to deal with at Scotland Yard. Then they discovered the mutilated body of crime-writer Maurice Seton, whose macabre murder was to spark off a wave of unparalleled horror ..."
~~back cover

I do like P.D. James' style, althoughy sometimes it's a bit too spare for my taste. I seem to have read this one in a state of nonthinking, because the ending was a complete mystery
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Jan C
Before I started I couldn't remember whether I had read this before or not. I don't think I read this one. I think I would remember this.

A couple of years ago I decided to go back to the beginning and work my way through. I am finding that I haven't read as many of her books as I thought I had. Either that, or my memory isn't what I thought it was. Because no bells are going off.

I listened to this one. Adam Dalgliesh takes an annual visit to his elderly aunt on the shore (and don't ask me what
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Filip
It would be a five-star novel if not for the ending. I cannot even say it is bad, seems the author prefers to finish her stories in this way and while I respect it, I am not a fun of such endings. I prefer to learn the motive, the way how crime was committed from the detective, learning how did he piece the facts together... not have him simply state that "he knew it" after all is known, especially if his actions before would be very, very strange if he indeed knew the identity of the perpetrato ...more
Kandace
Adam Dalgliesh has just wrapped up the case of grizzly child murders and is in need of a holiday to clear his head and make some important decisions in his personal life. The peace and quiet of his aunt's cottage in the small village of Monksmere is quickly shattered when the body of a neighboring writer is found and Dalgliesh is entangled once more in a murder investigation.

Unnatural Causes is the third book in the Adam Dalgliesh series, which has gained moderate success and it is easy to see w
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Abbey
#3 Adam Dalgliesh, vacationing with his aunt on the wild coast of England; cosy police procedural + amateur sleuths. Literary mayhem might have caused literary, and real life, murder, when an obnoxious author gets bumped off in a spectacular manner, but then appears to have died from natural causes.

Filled with arty types all stepping on each others’ toes, including a reclusive one-book phenom, a detective author who churns ‘em out, an artsyfartsy overly precise nitpicking critic, a Cartland-esq
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Abbi
I've started reading my way through P.D. James (perhaps July is a month of mystery, as that seems to be what is capturing my interest now), and I really liked this book. Several books further on in the series, and this is still my favorite of the Dalgliesh mysteries.

I think I liked it because it is entirely (or almost entirely) from Dalgliesh's point of view. I like a good mystery, but part of a book is the character development. James has a tendency to write different sections/chapters from di
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Earnie Painter
I've been listening to the last two books rather than reading. The British accent makes me happy. :-D

I've read all of the Hercule Poirot novels, and then I tossed around for something else to read. Then I came across P.D. James. These are nice in that they aren't terribly difficult to read; I can make it a nice weekend.

I loved the descriptions in this book. I could smell the salt in the air of the Suffolk shore and feel the old houses. There is a mystery. There is a murder. But, there is the per
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Mandolin
Maurice Seton, a prolific if not terribly successful author of detective fiction, died of apparently natural causes, but the state of his body when found was far from natural. Lying in the bottom of his half-brother's dinghy which had washed ashore after a storm, his corpse stared up at the sun as the blood dried on the stumps of his wrists. Were his severed hands a macabre method of revenge? Though the case is under the jurisdiction of the local constabulary , Inspector Dalgliesh, on vacation a ...more
Nadine
This is a seemingly cozy British parlor mystery set by the sea. Adam Dalgiesh visits his aunt for a week's holiday at her home set in the midst of a bevy of authors, all attempting to out do each other. Dalgiesh, always conflicted about commitment, is planning a quiet week enjoying his aunt's company as they walk the shoreline and bird watch. He has a woman friend back in London, and must decide if he wants to propose.

Of course, a body is found, and the local detectives both resent and make use
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Sylvia Kelso
I read 6 James books trying to get on friendly terms with this writer and her detective, Inspector/Chief Inspector/Commander Dalgliesh, and failed. A lot of that failure I set at said detective's door: if I'm going to read a detective series using a single detective/investigator as pov and protagonist, that figure needs to be not only intelligent and preferably complex but sympatico. Not necessarily faulty, but certainly of flesh and blood, with some sort of emotions beyond detachment, and conne ...more
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P. D. (Phyllis Dorothy) James was the author of twenty books, most of which have been filmed and broadcast on television in the United States and other countries. She spent thirty years in various departments of the British Civil Service, including the Police and Criminal Law Department of Great Britain's Home Office. She served as a magistrate and as a governor of the BB
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More about P.D. James...

Other Books in the Series

Adam Dalgliesh (1 - 10 of 14 books)
  • Cover Her Face (Adam Dalgliesh, #1)
  • A Mind to Murder (Adam Dalgliesh, #2)
  • Shroud for a Nightingale (Adam Dalgliesh, #4)
  • The Black Tower (Adam Dalgliesh, #5)
  • Death of an Expert Witness (Adam Dalgliesh, #6)
  • A Taste for Death (Adam Dalgliesh, #7)
  • Devices and Desires (Adam Dalgliesh, #8)
  • Original Sin (Adam Dalgliesh, #9)
  • A Certain Justice (Adam Dalgliesh, #10)
  • Death in Holy Orders (Adam Dalgliesh, #11)
Death Comes to Pemberley The Children of Men Cover Her Face (Adam Dalgliesh, #1) Shroud for a Nightingale (Adam Dalgliesh, #4) The Private Patient (Adam Dalgliesh, #14)

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“There are few couples as unhappy as those who are too proud to admit their unhappiness.” 8 likes
“What about his style?" asked Dalgliesh who was beginning to think that his reading had been unnecessarily restricted.
"Turgid but grammatical. And, in these days, when every illiterate debutante thinks she is a novelist, who am I to quarrel with that? Written with Fowler on his left hand and Roget on his right. Stale, flat and, alas, rapidly becoming unprofitable..."
"What was he like as a person?" asked Dalgliesh.
"Oh, difficult. Very difficult, poor fellow! I thought you knew him? A precise, self-opinionated, nervous little man perpetually fretting about his sales, his publicity or his book jackets. He overvalued his own talent and undervalued everyone else's, which didn't exactly make for popularity."
"A typical writer, in fact?" suggested Dalgliesh mischievously.”
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