Alex's Reviews > An Unsuitable Job For A Woman

An Unsuitable Job For A Woman by P.D. James
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Jun 08, 2011

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Read from June 07 to 08, 2011

It's interesting when crime writers have a clear lead character that they love, and decide to branch out into a different one along similar genre lines. Val McDermid transitioned from reckless PI Kate Brannigan to impotent psychologist Tony Hill and sexually frustrated Carol Jordan, and here James transitions from the poetic detective inspector Adam Dalgliesh to the ingenue PI Cordelia Gray. You might have sensed that the two authors went in opposite directions.

A PI has the benefit of not having to act within the strict boundaries of the law but is limited by access to the specific details of a given case by people who don't necessarily have to say anything to them. And, when they're an ingenue, their credibility is easily called into question by other characters and readers alike.

Cordelia Gray is a 22 year old private detective thrust into solo practice by the suicide of her boss. She's almost immediately hired to investigate the reason behind the suicide of a scientist's son, and in the process discovers some of what she missed by being denied Cambridge by her Bolshie father. James' work here speeds along much faster than your typical Dalgliesh, but this is in part because there is little sense of the bigger picture commonly employed by detectives.
Gray moves at breakneck speed from one appointment to the next, gleaning information that is of some use to the reader but makes the character seem rushed. With Gray billing her client for time and itemising her costs, there is simply too much connective tissue; James painstakingly tells the reader precisely how Gray gets from place to place. The book is compact but seems slightly overstuffed.

Cordelia Gray, at least in her first outing, isn't as compelling a character as Adam Dalgliesh. Dalgliesh's brief mentions in this book prove to the reader that James considers him an invincible and overwhelming presence; it is clear that, had Dalgliesh been on the case from the start, Gray's investigation would be totally uncalled for. On top of this, Gray gets out of all of her muddles in the end through an excessively convenient string of deaths; it's strange, to say the least.

James is an author I've had a fair amount of experience with, and I can say without reservation that her later work is better than her earlier. I'll keep an eye out for more of the Gray series but I firmly believe that Dalgliesh is always going to be her more accomplished work.
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