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Unnatural Causes (Adam Dalgliesh #3)
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Unnatural Causes

(Adam Dalgliesh #3)

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  10,841 ratings  ·  443 reviews

Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh had been looking forward to a quiet holiday at his aunt's cottage on Monksmere Head, one of the furthest-flung spots on the remote Suffolk coast. With nothing to do other than enjoy long wind-swept walks, tea in front of the crackling wood fire and hot buttered toast, Dalgliesh was relishing the thought of a well-earne
Paperback, 218 pages
Published May 20th 2002 by Penguin Books in association with Faber & Faber (first published 1967)
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3.94  · 
Rating details
 ·  10,841 ratings  ·  443 reviews

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Ahmad Sharabiani
Unnatural Causes (Adam Dalgliesh #3), P.D. James (Phyllis Dorothy James, Baroness James of Holland Park)
Unnatural Causes (1967) is a detective novel by English crime writer P. D. James. While staying with his Aunt Jane in Suffolk, Adam Dalgliesh stumbles across a most bizarre and frightening murder. A local detective novelist, Maurice Seton, becomes himself the subject of investigation when his boat washes ashore with his body inside, with both his hands cut off, seemingly with a meat cleaver. S
May 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Published in 1967, this is the third Adam Dalgliesh mystery; following on from “Cover Her Face” and “A Mind to Murder.” Dalgliesh is still involved with Deborah Riscoe, who appeared in the first novel, and is considering whether or not to propose to her. Does he love her enough to change his life and perhaps put his work second? While considering this change, he goes to stay with his aunt, Jane Dalgliesh. An avid bird watcher, she lives in a small community near Monksmere bird reserve, which see ...more
May 30, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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,
Dillwynia Peter
Jul 12, 2018 rated it it was ok
This is certainly not one of James’ better mysteries. The premise is wonderful and the opening scenes really grab you into the story. But quickly it just goes flat – like a car getting bogged in a muddy swamp. One then feels like they are sinking, with no escape and that pretty much sums up the narrative.

I found the characters a little TOO similar. Really?? A village that doesn’t have any facilities holds that many writers?? I don’t think so. There were the typical comments such as a male not fi
Dec 05, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Through the years I've read some of P.D. James' mysteries featuring Adam Dagleish. And I've seen some of the books portrayed in television dramas. Consequently, I'm confused as to which books I'm familiar with. But I have definitely not read or seen this one. Dagleish takes a holiday to visit his Aunt, who lives near the coast. It is winter,and James writing brings that forcefully to mind as Adam is caught up in a murder investigation that takes him out to deal with the elements. Other than Adam ...more
Jul 29, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: mystery, fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Karl Jorgenson
Sep 04, 2018 rated it liked it
Written in the sixties, this mystery is done in the English/Agatha Christie style. A middle-class man is murdered and the police find him surrounded by quirky, irritating characters, all of whom have motive and opportunity. Who did it? Who cares?
James' strong suit is characters, to the point where it's overkill. In a modern mystery, we might meet the characters, understand them, and move on. Here, we are pounded with scene after scene of characters acting in their peculiar ways--is that a clue?
Apr 08, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Kurt Reichenbaugh
Aug 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
Well, was okay. It was old fashioned and something I was in the mood for. Unfortunately the plot was full of characters that didn't resonate with me. Dalgliesh is a reluctant sleuth who'd rather be doing nothing on holiday than getting involved with self-absorbed suspects in the murder of a mystery writer. And worse, he just wasn't very interesting as a character. He writes poetry, but seemed in a foul mood throughout this novel and not in any kind of endearing way. The murder itself i ...more
June 1967 Birthday Read

2.5 stars rounding to 3 stars because I can't stand the thought of PD getting 2 stars!

I don't believe this was a case of me not wanting to read, but more this book not capturing me. And it should have, a mystery writer found dead in a small English seaside town. And I love Inspector Dalgliesh. Maybe I didn't pay attention in the beginning, but I had a really hard time keeping track of the townspeople.

And I'm glad that 50 years have passed so books no longer have derogator
Nick Davies
Jun 24, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
Because of it’s relatively short length, this didn’t drag at a slow pace like some of the longer PD James novels I have read, instead keeping a fairly decent speed as our familiar hero Adam Dalglish helps solve a murder in an isolated small community on the windy coast of East Anglia. Again. You’d have thought he’d avoid visiting.

It was okay. Entertaining enough, kept me guessing, nicely written with some clever descriptions and observations. The denouement was a little cliched (the old trope of
Feb 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: crime-fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 18, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 22, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book could be called "Unnecessarily Complicated Causes." It also suffered from a fair amount of boring descriptive passages about scenery and houses, and characters who were too similar and ill-defined to keep track of. It ended with a too-convenient confession on tape, found after the murderer too-conveniently died. Also, the murderer's death comes at the end of a superficially dramatic adventure scene, involving an attempted rescue from a flooding house during a storm, which was irrelevan ...more
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
Denise Spicer
Oct 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has a great opening paragraph. It is gross but has a great descriptions of a murdered victim set adrift in a dinghy – a “corpse without hands.” (page 7)
This Adam Dalgliesh mystery is a fairly fast-paced read with interesting plot twists and an odd (and mostly unappealing) assortment of characters. On vacation at his Aunt Jane’s, Adam has personal issues to contemplate when he is plunged into the bizarre situations of looking on as the local police officer investigates the murder of hi
Jan 17, 2016 rated it it was ok
As always, PD James's greatest strength is her prose. It's excellent. And even though I didn't get as good a grasp on the characters in Unnatural Causes as I did when I read the first two AD novels, I was generally okay with her characterisation work here too.

I say "generally", because the eventual murderer's personality and motivations made absolutely no impression on me at all. Even during the climactic (and otherwise well-written) scene of the novel I was thinking, "Really? Them? Is this a f
Oct 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mysteries
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.
May 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 11, 2009 rated it did not like it
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
Mar 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the 3rd Adam Dalgliesh novel and we are starting to get a better insight into him, as the plot involves Adam taking a holiday to see his aunt in her home in a small community in Suffolk.
PD James does a very good job of creating the desolate atmosphere of the area. This novel was written around the time that the first Sizewell nuclear reactor went on line, but although Sizewell is mentioned as a place, there is no reference to the nuclear installation. However, in my mind the association
Tory Wagner
Jul 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: british, mystery
Unnatural Causes by P.D. James is the third in a series featuring Adam Dalgliesh, a Scotland Yard inspector. While visiting his aunt, Adam becomes involved in the sudden death of Maurice Seton, a famous mystery writer. His corpse is found in a floating rowboat with both hands chopped off at the wrists. Adam tries to remain distant from the local investigation , but soon gets drawn into the bizarre circumstances and the unusual lineup of possible suspects.
James Aura
Jul 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
An atmospheric mystery set on the British coast. I enjoyed the slow roll-out of the mystery and the resolution by Detective Dalgliesh. P.D. James has an intriguing writing style. I'll be checking out more of her books in time.
Tracey the Bookworm
Mar 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. The third in the series and my favourite so far. The story is very unique and the descriptions of the storm tossed Suffolk coast mirrored the inner turmoil of Dalgeish.
Jul 10, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
1.5 stars. I did finish it, but will be loath to try another James book.
Jun 26, 2019 rated it it was ok
I didn’t really care for it, it had all the makings of a good story but I had a hard time getting through it.
Laura Andersen
Nov 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: mystery
Book 3: in which Adam Dalgliesh gets told off for preferring beautiful, graceful women and then his girlfriend dumps him for his ambivalence :)
Jul 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Old audio edition read by Marsden. Very good
Sylvia Kelso
May 09, 2013 rated it did not like it
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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Discussing the Ending (SPOILERS) 1 13 Aug 03, 2015 06:58AM  
Madison Mega-Mara...: Unnatural Causes 1 5 Dec 31, 2012 04:22PM  

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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

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)
“There are few couples as unhappy as those who are too proud to admit their unhappiness.” 9 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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