The Skull Beneath The Skin (Cordelia Gray, #2)
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The Skull Beneath The Skin (Cordelia Gray #2)

3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  3,257 ratings  ·  145 reviews

Private detective Cordelia Gray is invited to the sunlit island of Courcy to protect the vainly beautiful actress Clarissa Lisle from veiled threats on her life. Within the rose red walls of a fairy-tale castle, she finds the stage is set for death.

"Richly intricate and literate," James's second Cordelia Gray mystery "shows James at the height of her storytelling powers"

Paperback, 448 pages
Published April 17th 2001 by Touchstone (first published 1982)
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Hamlet by William ShakespeareThe Skull Beneath The Skin by P.D. JamesTrainspotting by Irvine WelshWhen You Are Engulfed in Flames by David SedarisUnder the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry
2nd out of 85 books — 28 voters
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret AtwoodThe Color Purple by Alice WalkerEnder's Game by Orson Scott CardWatchmen by Alan MooreBeloved by Toni Morrison
Best Books of the Decade: 1980's
155th out of 889 books — 912 voters

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mark monday
the novel appears to be PD James looking back at agatha christie by taking the basics of the classic murder mystery (an enclosed and gothic setting, a finite number of suspects, stylized characters)...and then updating it with all of the intricate details, narrative complexity, and emotionally nuanced characterizations of a later-period psychological thriller. the scene in question is wonderful - per the book jacket, a "fairy-tale castle on the sunlit island of Courcy". the often self-doubting b...more
The Skull Beneath the Skin looks back to the days when readers expected large dollops of philosophy and literary references along with their stories. This P D James novel contains references to John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi (the play within a play), Nietzsche, Donne, Shakespeare, William Morris, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, E M Forster, Malory, Voltaire, Austen and Rattigan amongst others.
Bosola: Other sins only speak; murder shrieks out.
The element of water moistens the earth,
But bloo
Private investigator Cordelia Gray has been hired by Sir George Ralston to accompany his wife, Clarissa, to Courcy Island, where Clarissa is to star in a play. Cordelia’s mission is to keep the persistent poison pen letters away from Clarissa. They’ve already caused one meltdown on stage and Sir George doesn’t want another. Protecting Clarissa from the letters is one thing, but protecting her from death is something else. When Clarissa is discovered murdered prior to the performance, Cordelia’s...more
As usual, there is a lot going on in this book besides the mystery itself. James is wonderful at drawing pictures with words, pictures that include the scenery and personality of not only people but inanimate objects.

Cordelia Gray has been hired as a bodyguard/personal assistant for a fading stage actress who has been receiving vaguely threatening letters for some time. She is due to perform in a private performance at the home of a friend of hers on an island off the coast of England. Essential...more
The Skull Beneath the Skin is the last PD James I'm going to read for a while. I will say that this was a lot more fun to read than The Black Tower. I found Cordelia Gray to be a more sympathetic detective character than Dalgleish, and the plot followed a little more closely in the style of a classic English house-party murder.

The downfall of this one is that the theatrical setting is such a cliché, with the self-absorbed diva and her circle of followers – even to the mysterious and devoted fe...more
The second of the Cordelia Gray series by P D James, wherein Adam Dalgleish, her famous Inspector has only a passing mention. I liked the initial 3/4ths of the book – it was a very cozy read – a fading theatre artist who is giving a private performance at a remote island castle belonging to her friend. She is besieged by poisonous hate mails and is fearing her life, though no one believes that her life is in danger. Her current husband engages Cordelia Gray to be constantly with her and filter a...more
I enjoyed reading this (on a plane ride) but was irked by two things: 1.) Cordelia was rather passive in her role as detective & didn't stand up for herself as much as I would have presumed she would & 2.) The reveal of 'whodunit' was anti-climatic to me. More of a, "Oh...that's it? That's all?"
Patricia Godfrey
I love pd james, and two years ago went to hear her speak about Death Comes to Pemberley, her imagined idea of life at the big house after the marriage of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. And then I got a look at the television adaptation of that book and my. My admiration for the 93 year old author grew. Whoever made that adaptation threw money and a fabulous cast at it.

I have a first American edition of The Skull Beneath the Skin, found at a library book sale, and had it up on the old and fabu...more
A bit of a far cry from her later books. The structure is there, but she makes some major leaps without bringing the reader along. Having read mostly her later books, this makes a nice contrast to see how she's grown as a writer.
PD James thriller with Greta Scacchi and John Moffatt.

An magnificent plot, as usual, by Dame James.
Sep 25, 2011 Annie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2011
Some people say that they never read a book twice; so many books, so little time, etc. Not for me. Once one of my professors said that the definition of a good book is one you can read multiple times and find something new about it each time.

The Cordelia Gray mysteries by P.D. James are good books. True, they are probably too atmospheric and pedantic to be a good book for all people, but they're good for me. I've never been able to find anything else quite like them, and unfortunately there are...more
As much as I enjoy a good crime or mystery, I generally tend towards the cinematic or small screen versions as opposed to a good page turner. I was a bit apprehensive after starting this one because the opening absolutely did not grab me but seeing as it's a class text, I had to keep pushing through. What I did really like was the amount of back or pre-story there was before the actual crime took place. That allowed me to gain what information I could about the characters and their situations so...more
It's hard to know precisely how to grade a novel such as The Skull Beneath The Skin. James takes much of what she learned from composing twenty years of crime fiction and transplants these lessons onto Cordelia Gray, who is simply not as robust a creation as Adam Dalgliesh.

What we get is a largely satisfactory composition that never quite gels, because Cordelia feels like more of a bystander than an active participant in the novel; she is on an island when bad things happen on that island, and...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This book was recommended to me in a very unusual way... I suspect by a friend who has not actually read this book yet. He said "You like Bertie and Wooster, this is a lot like it."

Well, I'm half-way through and it's a nice read... but it is NOT P.G.Wodehouse. I'm not normally a mystery guy, but the story is picking up and I don't know who 'done' it yet... but it's done been done. There are plenty of clues left about - now we just need to see if the clues get used, or if some magical external k...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
(NO SPOILER) P.D. James is a leading British crime writer first published in 1962 (COVER HER FACE) and who is best known for her Adam Dalgliesh detective fiction. This book, THE SKULL BENEATH THE SKIN, however, has only one mention of Dalgliesh; rather, the young Cordelia Gray is featured --in a second book. (The first Cordelia Gray mystery is An Unsuitable Job for a Woman -- which I have, unfortunately, not read.)

Cordelia Gray, detective, is hired to go undercover as a secretary/assistant for...more
Luffy Monkey D.
These books that get 2 stars are beginning to have a particular feel to them. Professionally written but ultimately ill sustaining books that do enough but don't tell enough. I'm leaving the ultimate choice to fans who want to buy the second Cordelia Gray book. The first one was a real find. This one is not.

In the first book, the story was told from the young lady's eyes. Here, there's the laborious setting up of unlikely future suspects. They all seem sinister - yawn. However things picked up...more
P.D. James is one of my favorite mystery writers. This novel is only one of two that feature private detective Cordelia Gray as the main protagonist. Perhaps this is because Gray, although an interesting character in her own right, is nevertheless not half as interesting as James' more famous creation, Adam Dagliesh, who investigates murders on behalf of New Scotland Yard and has starred in at least 14 of James' mystery novels. Perhaps the Cordelia Gray character is too vulnerable, too girlish,...more
I cannot emphasize enough what a superb, talented writer is James. I regret that she chose detective-mystery novels as her genre, although my first James, "Children of Men," was essentially science fiction.
In this go-round, she takes the classic, cliched story of 10 people trapped in an island castle--one of whom is a murderer. Agatha Christie had virtualy the same scenario in "Ten Litle Indians," but James is a profoundly more skillful writer. She bores into the characters' souls to show us th...more
I returned to P.D. James after a spell of reading more recent Scandi-crime, to remind myself of the difference and because I was fairly sure that I hadn't read this one before, although I had read its predecessor, "An unsuitable job for a woman" a long time ago. This book was first published in 1982, but it has a timeless quality - could have been any time between 1950-1980ish - apart from one or two contemporary references. This book is, as is everything by P.D. James, well-written in a highly...more
I really like James, but this book was not my favorite. The choice to make it an "island murder" mystery required too much machination, not all of which was believable. The whole theater revival thing was a little clunky and revealed itself as a device to put everyone in the right place to be a suspect. And the "high-strung actress" character of Clarissa was cliched--like something out of Agatha Christie, decades too late to be convincing. There was some attempt to modernize Clarissa with some o...more
Rachel Piper
Not as enjoyable as the first (and only other) Cordelia novel. These are the only two P.D. James books I’ve read, so maybe I’m making an unfair judgment, but I felt that this book was basically a standard Agatha Christie-esque “potential murderers in a house together” story, with some extra sex, violence and a somewhat-unresolved ending to make it seem edgier and more literary or something.

Another jarring aspect of this book was the climax/resolution scene. After hundreds of pages of buildup wh...more
PD James gets off to a roaring start in the second (and final?) Cordelia Gray mystery. Crisp dialogue, intriguing characters, beautiful setting -- classic PDJ. About halfway through, there's a noticeable decline in plot and plausibility, leading to a an ending that left me scratching my head. Cordelia Gray was such a strong, clever character in her first book ("An Unsuitable Job For a Woman," 1972) -- a woman of action and defiance. In "Skull," she's passive and reserved. Also, James spends a lo...more
I don't quite know what to make of this book. PD James, of course, writes beautifully, and I am disappointed that the Cordelia Grey series never went beyond two installments, however the ending was rather abrupt and unsatisfying, almost as if there had been a plan for a sequel that never materialized? I do appreciate that James seems to set herself writing challenges (write a historical novel, write a scifi novel, write a Jane Austen extension novel), rather than just doing what she is best know...more
I picked this book up randomly from my mom's old collection of paperbacks. The writing is... a little verbose, so it took me a while to get through it. Considering I'm not much of a fan of standard mystery, I really enjoyed this book. The characters especially were interesting and complex, if a little dated. I suck at solving the mystery itself, so of course I had no idea who "done it," but even so there was a twist at the end that had me catching my breath.

It's not a book a need to have in my c...more
p.d. james is a master at crafting an atmosphere of intrigue, in intriguing settings, with well-developed characters. this is the second of her codelia gray series - it's a great read!

"At Pagworth he had felt like an alien set down without a phrase book in a lawless, ill-governed, and alien country whose language and customs, crudely harsh as the playground in which they were born, were terrifyingly incomprehensible." page 63

referring to fear of death, clarissa says,
"It comes in a rhythm, wave a...more
I read this book because I was invited to talk to HSC (Australian school examination for 17/18 year olds)crime fiction students about present-day crime fiction and thrillers. But, as this was one of the set texts, I was intrigued to read it. Even though this who-done-it was written in the 1980s I found the tone very old-fashioned, as if it were written in the 1950s. It's as if a female PI is an outrage! Probably because I like very active, daring central characters I found the female PI a little...more
Steve Bailey
As always, Ms. James' writing is a joy, in and of itself. This story had a good old-fashioned gothic feel to it. Read An Unsuitable Job for a Woman first.
I would give this book 3 1/2 stars. P.D. James is an excellent writer, but because she is so intent on details, this book is a slow read. She has an extensive vocabulary and uses words not usually used in everyday language. I enjoyed the book, but I especially enjoyed the last fifty pages when things played out. I also liked her detective but found her rather tentative in places. Much of this book reminded me of Ten Little Indians or And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, which detracted f...more
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English Mysteries...: (2) January 2013 - The Skull Beneath the Skin 10 75 Jan 25, 2013 06:56AM  
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P. D. James is 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 has served as a magistrate and as a governor of the BBC. In 2000 she...more
More about P.D. James...
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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