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An Unsuitable Job for a Woman

(Cordelia Gray #1)

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  15,565 ratings  ·  958 reviews
Handsome Cambridge dropout Mark Callender died hanging by the neck with a faint trace of lipstick on his mouth. When the official verdict is suicide, his wealthy father hires fledgling private investigator Cordelia Gray to find out what led him to self-destruction. What she discovers instead is a twisting trail of secrets and sins, and the strong scent of murder. An Unsuit ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published April 17th 2001 by Scribner (first published 1972)
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Lara I was struck by the similarity in style and tone to The Cuckoo's Calling. Not to take anything away from that book, I enjoyed it, but Rowling was clea…moreI was struck by the similarity in style and tone to The Cuckoo's Calling. Not to take anything away from that book, I enjoyed it, but Rowling was clearly heavily influenced by James. And why wouldn't she be? Cordelia Gray is fabulous heroine and the book is masterfully written. (less)

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Average rating 3.83  · 
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James Thane
This book, which was first published in 1972, reads like it was written in 1947, if not earlier. It's very much in the tradition of English mysteries that were set in country houses in the years between the two world wars, and there's nothing in the book to suggest the time period in which it is supposed to actually take place. There are a number of young men and women in the book, but they don't sound remotely like the young people who were living in England in the '60s and '70s; rather they so ...more
Jan 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In this case,let me say “judge a book by its memorable title.”
I’d like this book to be categorized as a good literary fiction with human drama,not just a detective.
This well-written,and austerely beautiful novel has no gadget,isn’t action-packed or sexy,but here one young female detective, who lost her mentor recently,walks the scenes,talks to people and gets
to the heart of things.I guess this simplicity will let you feel empathy for the charcters. I sometimes wonder how deceptive the word“simp
Jan 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, book-club
Where I got the book: my local library.

My first shock of this review is checking Wiki to see where this novel comes in P.D. James's oeuvre and discovering that P.D. stands for Phyllis Dorothy. Let me just take a moment.

*clears throat*

Now where was I? Right. The second shock was discovering I wasn't all that impressed. I thought I liked P.D James. Have I changed or is this the Death Comes to Pemberley effect?

Anyway, I find that this was James's fifth novel. And indeed the writing is that of a sea
Apr 19, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reread
"It's unwise to become to too personally involved with a human being. When that human being is dead, it can be dangerous as well as unwise."

This is a reread for me, and I can't think why I didn't write a review before. I adored this book in 2012, as it was probably the first literary mystery I'd read of its kind, barring Elizabeth George. I always meant to get around to the second and last book in the short series, but never did.

What entranced me were all the literary references, the Cambridge
3.5/5. I loved the relatively slow pacing of the mystery and the descriptions of the cozy Cambridge atmosphere. Overall, I really enjoyed accompanying Cordelia on her first investigation, but I wish we'd gotten to know more about her earlier on in the story, as I felt quite distanced from her throughout the book. The ending didn't feel entirely plausible to me either. ...more
Roman Clodia
The writing is more accomplished and richer than is often the case in crime fiction but so much of this book feels unconvincing. The sheer number of suicides (2, or is that 3?), murders (3) and murderers (3) become wildly improbable and I still don't understand the motive for the main killing... (view spoiler) ...more
Here we are, it's P.D. James's fifth novel, and one would hope to see writerly progress being made. More substantial plots, more fully fleshed characters. I want James to expand beyond the stale, misanthropic souls who people her books (Dalgliesh excepted). I feel a little iconoclastic saying this, because James is one of the more revered mystery writers. "...even minor P.D. James characters are fully realized, given a pedigree, a school background and an attitude toward life," says the New York ...more
Apr 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Every now and again I seem to re-discover P.D. James, as though I forget how much I enjoy her books every time I pick them up. This is the first Cordelia Grey mystery (although there are only two). The series, short as it is, has links to Adam Dalgliesh – Cordelia Grey is the partner in a Private Detective agency, run by former police detective, Bernie Pryde, who used to work with Dalgliesh and he also features at the end of the book.

For Bernie, who commits suicide at the beginning of this nove
Jun 03, 2007 rated it did not like it
Shelves: english-lit, mystery
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Reading this book was a pleasure. However it did expose my lack of acute concentration, if not my imagining. There was one place in the book where I could do with some exactitude, that is the detective in the well part. Unlike many cozy, and English mystery books, there are quite some prurient quips lying about. Many of the physical traits of the supporting cast are confidently described. P.D. James is some writer.

This book is one of the least domestic crime books I've ever read. The heroine l
Dec 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery-crime
This was a fun, quick and suspenseful mystery set in Cambridge, England. Novice private detective, Cordelia Gray, is a very likeable character. Left to figure the business out on her own after her partner takes his own life, Cordelia is hired by the successful scientist, Ronald Callender, to determine why his son Mark committed suicide. But did Mark really commit suicide? This is what Cordelia questions and seeks to divine for herself. Plenty of twists and questionable suspects made this a page- ...more
Dhanaraj Rajan
Jun 20, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: casual-reading
Once a while, I like to read a crime/mystery novel. That does not mean that I hate reading crime novels. In fact, it is otherwise. The crime novels draw me into the book to such a level that I do not do anything else till I complete the novel.

The crime novel should keep me engaged. Or else it ceases to interest me. I love to become part of the plot especially as the companion to the principal detective. It should challenge my intelligence as I tend to find out the culprit myself from the evidenc
Mar 18, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
2.5 stars
A very slow start and some slow, imo unnecessary digressions (to up the word count?). No surprising ending. Therefore I can't give it a full 3 star rating. On the other hand I didn't dislike it, so I feel 2 stars would be too low. Conclusion: 2.5 stars. Wouldn't read it again, don't know if I'll read anything by P.D. James again, although... I read in a couple of reviews that some people who normally do like her writing didn't like this one either. So who knows, maybe someday I'll give
Jan 21, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: modern-crime
This is not P D James at her best. There are so many great detective books by this author but this is not one of them.

This follows a young woman, Cordelia Gray, who is asked to investigate the suicide of a young man who was a student at Cambridge. She is asked to try to find out why he killed himself by the father.

(view spoiler)
Eileen Daly-Boas
Apr 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
No spoilers.
A wonderful mystery that grabs you from the first page. James' descriptions of characters make them immediately three-dimensional, and you are pulled along with Cordelia Gray as her invisible Watson. I found Cordelia to be a very real character and although the book was published in 1972, it's still mostly timeless. The idea that everyone seems to think detective work is unsuitable for a woman shouldn't ring as true today, but it does. And every young woman (and perhaps man) finds
Susan Johnson
Jan 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I first read this novel 30 years ago and had forgotten just how good it was. After reading "Death at Pemberley" and being so bitterly disappointed, I was a little worried when my Goodreads book club selected this for this month's read. I was worried that it wouldn't be as good as I remembered. Thankfully, it was even better than the first time through. I will go back now and read the second Cordelia Gray and wonder why there arent't any more.

Cordelia is a young, innocent detective called in by a
Jan 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Cordelia Gray finds herself the sole proprietor of the Private Investigation business she shared with her now deceased partner. Her first case is to investigate the suicide of a young man from a wealthy family who dropped out of college to become a gardener. There's no doubt it was suicide...or is there? Cordelia moves into the gardener's cottage and talks to his college friends to uncover the truth, often facing folks who really believe hers is an unsuitable job for a woman. This is P. D. James ...more
Deb Jones
An Unsuitable Job for a Woman is a contemporary story -- contemporary to the time it was written, in the early 1970s. It is the introduction to the Cordelia Gray series.

Gray is a 22-year-old woman who has recently partnered with an ex-Metro Police CID detective. Their agency is in its early stages; their office is spartan and squalid, their prospects for new clientele are few.

The story begins with Gray coming into the office to find a suicide note from her partner; an inauspicious beginning. As
May 05, 2016 rated it liked it
I was game to get started with Phyllis Dorothy James, when she passed away. It is difficult to describe “An Unsuitable Job For A Woman”. Suicide is a grisly introduction but many segments were slow. Interviews with informants played out languidly, instead of cutting to revealing parts. Many private musings were worth keeping because this is how we acquaint Cordelia Gray. Her unusual upbringing, having a somewhat crooked Father whilst educated at a convent school, informs her handling of life. Sh ...more
Cordelia Gray, age 22, shows up to work one morning to find her boss, Bernie Pryde, dead by suicide; he has chosen this over suffering through cancer. While she’s handling this sorrow and the details, she is hired to find out why Cambridge dropout Mark Callendar has killed himself. The man who hires her is his father, and it doesn’t take Cordelia long to realize that murder is the far more likely cause of Mark’s death.

The search Cordelia undertakes reveals surprises, twists, elements of danger a
Oct 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When P.D, James passed—last year I think it was, I intended to read some more of her books. I began reading her when I was quite young, and remember needing to consult the dictionary often because of the many words I wasn’t familiar with. Mostly, I read books in the Adam Dalgleish series. So, when I saw this book about private investigator Cordelia Gray, it looked interesting. Cordelia Gray is quite a different character—a young woman in her twenties who had had to make it on her own. She is tho ...more
Marilyn Green Faulkner
Nov 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
PD James is the finest mystery writer today I think. Her vocabulary is not only challenging, but spot-on. When she uses a word, it belongs where it lands. She is marvelously well read, and laces her narrative with beautiful quotations from classic authors. Her mysteries are always intriguing, and I've never figured one out before the end. I started with one of the last Adam Dalgliesh novels and worked my way backward to the beginning. Recently I realized that she wrote two novels about a female ...more
Jul 04, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Meg
Saw more Dorothy L. Sayers in this than in any of the previous James books. Was looking for a mystery and saw this had Cambridge as a setting. My daughter leaves for there this week. Wanted to give her something fun to read for the journey. She's going on a course and has lots of mandatory reading. ...more
Craig Pittman
Aug 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have been reading thrillers for more than four decades and I am pretty sure I have never read one that took a turn like this one did.

We start off by meeting Cordelia Gray, a smart and capable young British woman with an odd background, just as she discovers that her partner and mentor in a down-at-heels private eye agency, former cop Bernie Pryde, has slit his wrists. After dealing with that crisis, she is then hired by a wealthy scientist to look into another suicide -- the hanging death of h
Nov 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Find another badass woman to add to your fave list of badass females: check.
Susan in NC
Sep 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent mystery with a great heroine- I liked Cordelia Gray when I first read this over 20 years ago, and I very much enjoyed listening to the audiobook read by Penelope Dellaporta through my library. I wish PD James had written more books with her in the lead, I would have liked to get to know her better.

This rather bleak story opens with Cordelia discovering the body of her middle-aged business partner, Bernie Pryde; he committed suicide after finding out he had cancer. On the day of his cre
Dec 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
I'm torn about whether to give this 3 or 4 stars. I'll give it 4 now, and we'll see how that goes. Maybe I'll read more by her and then reassess it against her larger oeuvre. Anyway, I really liked this a lot. I used to read mysteries like crazy in high school, but somehow I never read P. D. James. Pity. Her work has all of that typical coziness of the British mystery, but because the main character is a private eye, it doesn't strain credibility like Miss Marple or something, constantly stumbl ...more
Mar 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Cordelia Gray, age 22, shows up to work one morning to find her boss, Bernie Pryde, dead by suicide; he has chosen this over suffering through cancer. While she’s handling this sorrow and the details, she is hired to find out why Cambridge dropout Mark Callendar has killed himself. The man who hires her is his father, and it doesn’t take Cordelia long to realize that murder is the far more likely cause of Mark’s death.

The search Cordelia undertakes reveals surprises, twists, elements of danger a
Aug 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: z-2012-in-2012
This first book in a series featuring DI Dalgliesh, but mainly from the wings. He only plays a cameo role, but he is mentioned many times. It is really the story of a young woman in the 70s who is having to make it in the world on her own. Despite her social isolation, she is caring and is willing to use her intelligence as well as her looks to further her cause. The book is full of the culture of the day; when young women were raised to do the washing up, make tea, and not challenge men. But, i ...more
Jul 10, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: p-d-james
I enjoyed the novel even with the supercilious detailed descriptions of rooms, houses and gardens. Cordelia Gray the recent owner of a private detective agency she inherits after her partner Bernie kills himself is hired to investigate the suicide of Mark Callender.

It is set in and around Cambridge. There are Mark’s not so nice friends, the father who has hired her to find out why his son killed himself, a nanny and the fathers unlikeable companion. The suicide turns out to be not a suicide. Th
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P. D. James, byname of Phyllis Dorothy James White, Baroness James of Holland Park, (born August 3, 1920, Oxford, Oxfordshire, England—died November 27, 2014, Oxford), British mystery novelist best known for her fictional detective Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard.

The daughter of a middle-grade civil servant, James grew up in the university town of Cambridge. Her formal education, however, ended at

Other books in the series

Cordelia Gray (2 books)
  • The Skull Beneath the Skin (Cordelia Gray, #2)

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