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Unnatural Causes

(Adam Dalgliesh #3)

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  12,478 ratings  ·  547 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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Average rating 3.93  · 
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 ·  12,478 ratings  ·  547 reviews

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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
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
Another step on the journey to get to know Adam Dalgliesh. In this installment, we get to meet his aunt, Jane, who shares many characteristics with her nephew. They are both taciturn, comfortable in their own company, and rather detached observers of other people's behaviour. They are rather the mirror image of Christie's Jane Marple and her nephew, Raymond West.

As so many good mysteries are, this one is set in a small community where everyone knows one another at least a passing fashion. They
Sep 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very happy that I stuck with this series after struggling a bit with the last book. Absolutely zipped through the 3rd in this well written series. It was a murder mystery within the writing of a murder mystery, and I was completely hooked by the shocking opening chapter.

Adam is quickly becoming one of my favourite literary characters. I loved seeing him moving from a secluded sea side village with his like tempered Aunt, to the exclusive Cadaver Club, on to the underbelly of London, in search o
Roman Clodia
After enjoying the first two Dalgleish books, this one was a bit of a slog. James does much to bring GA tropes up to date with her version of the village setting and closed circle of suspects. Problem is, I found the London section far more engaging, and the characterisation left a lot to be desired: it's hard to keep the male suspects distinguishable. There's a rather horrible attitude to physical disability that left a bad taste in my mouth. More positively, we get much greater insight into Da ...more
This installment of Adam Dalgliesh was a disappointment. The story started well with a mutilated corpse of a local writer being found during Dalgliesh's visit to his aunt in Suffolk disturbing the much looked forward peace and quiet of a holiday. And the setting the story in a literary community added a bit more spice or so I thought. But unfortunately, it didn't take the turn that I expected it would.

The story quickly became sluggish. It became tangled within the too detailed descriptions into
Julie  Durnell
Mar 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This third book is a charm in my opinion! I struggled with the first two and if this one went down like the others I was giving up. The writing was engaging, vocabulary was top notch without being too pedantic, plot was beautifully contrived, and the setting in coastal Suffolk was perfectly atmospheric. While I had guessed the who dunnit, I couldn't figure out the how or why dunnit. I feel like I know a little more about Inspector Dalgleish, even though it took a busman's holiday to see glimpses ...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
Deb Jones
Apr 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard is on holiday in the English countryside, visiting his aunt, Jane, after the successful completion of an investigation. What Dalgliesh gets instead is first the news that one of the village's regulars is missing -- and then, that said regular's body is found dead, floating in a dinghy offshore.

Dalgliesh, though not officially part of the ensuing investigation, nevertheless finds himself involved in all that happens after the body was found.

In addition to crime, Da
Christine PNW
Dec 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is the third Adam Dalgleish book, and was a library check out for me. I decided to revisit P.D. James this year as part of my "Century of Women" project. Unnatural Causes is the third in the series, and was published in 1967.

This is my favorite book so far because it was so cleverly plotted. The victim is a mystery writer, and is found in circumstances that feel like something out of his next planned book. Well after his death, an envelope containing the typed opening of his next book is re
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
Honestly this whole book felt like a waste of time. The only reason why I am giving it two stars is I liked how James described the location of the murders and we get into Dalgliesh's family history more.

"Unnatural Causes" follows Adam Dalgliesh as he returns to Suffolk to visit his aunt Jane. I maybe smiled at her name and had thoughts of Miss Marple dancing in my head. Adam's visit though is interrupted by a local writing group coming to call and then an Inspector Reckless interrupting to tel
Elizabeth (Alaska)
First, I did not read this edition. I am reading this on the bundle P. D. James's Adam Dalgliesh Mysteries: Cover Her Face, A Mind to Murder, Unnatural Causes, Shroud for a Nightingale, The Black Tower, and Death of an Expert Witness. To be honest, I picked it up because it was cheap and I was in the market for some British mysteries. I did not know then how much I would like James' writing style. I find it better than most mysteries, which, after all, are supposed to be about plot.

I also like h
Jul 29, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, mystery
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
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
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
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
Nov 17, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: crime-fiction
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
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
Dec 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
3.5 stars, but rounding up because I find these very readable.

I did find the final resolution was a bit out of the blue. It comes to Dalgliesh suddenly, and it reminded me of some Christie novels in the sense that there's no way the reader could have predicted it. It's mroe just a flash of inspiration on how the mystery could have been resolved. The reader doesn't have enough information to resolve it.

I did predict the killer, but that was mainly due to type, and a general assumption that the ot
Dame Agatha Christie and Her Peers
Book #48
If you're looking for blatant homophobic books with stupendously sick violence, this one's for you! And there must be a huge fan base for this loathsome type of novel: the goodreads overall rating is 3.94! AMAZING! (Not really, given the announcement of the goodreads choice awards, always embarrassing!)
CAST - 2: The singular, interesting, likable person here is Aunt Jane, Adam Dagliesh's only living relative. And her meat chopper is missing: she has no a
A good read up until the way in which the plot/murders were explained, which felt like a bit of a cop out.
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
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
Jack Heath
Dec 22, 2019 rated it liked it
3 Stars. I regret she is no longer with us, but if I'd had the chance, I would have said, "Dame James of Holland Park, I understand your famous Superintendent Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard is an intelligent man, well considered, and a published poet, but I have a longing for a little more detecting." In this third entry of the series, our hero is off on a short holiday with his aunt at her cottage at Monksmere Head on the Suffolk coast. It's a very small community of literary luminaries. He needs t ...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
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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)

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“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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