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P.D. James is best known for her Adam Dalgliesh mysteries. She wrote two mysteries starring Cordelia Gray and then abandoned the character. It is unfortunate for in many ways she is a much more interesting character then Dalgliesh.

 

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman
In 1972 James wrote An Unsuitable Job for a Woman where we first meet Cordelia when she discovers the body of her partner in the detective business Bernie Pryde. Pryde has committed suicide. It is not a very successful business to start with and now Cordelia has to try and make a go of it on her own. Elizabeth Lemming seems the answer to her financial problems when she comes to hire Cordelia at the request of her employer Sir Ronald Callender. He wants to know why his son Mark committed suicide. Cordelia agrees to take the case and travels to Cambridge.

Cordelia finds resistance to her job from the start. Mark had suddenly quit Cambridge and had taken a job as a gardener. No one from the University wants to talk to her. All of his friends want her to drop the case feeling that her prying would do no good and only hurt the dead man’s reputation further. Cordelia stays at the cottage that Mark had spent his last week at and was found dead in. She soon finds that her own life is in danger.

I found this to be a well-written book and I certainly did not expect the ending. James brings in Dalgliesh in at the end as if she wasn’t certain that the character of Cordelia Gray could stand on her own. She should have trusted the character more.

 

The Skull Beneath the SKin
It took 10 years before James would revisit Cordelia Gray in The Skull Beneath the Skin. Cordelia is hired by Sir George Ralston to protect his wife actress Clarissa Lisle. She has been getting threatening notes for many years and now on the verge of a performance that could reinvent her career Ralston wants to make sure that nothing happens to her. Cordelia travels to a private island owned by the extremely wealthy Ambrose Gorringe. There at the island’s small theater a production of The Duchess of Malfi is to take place with Clarissa in the title role. The place is littered with people who are not fond of the actress. Her husband knows that she is unfaithful. Her stepson Simon resents her breaking up his father’s marriage and blames her for his father’s accident at sea that cost him his life. Critic Ivo Whittingham is an ex-lover and currently dying. Add a sinister butler, his silent wife, and a dresser who doesn’t really care for her employer and you have the perfect cast for murder. Cordelia is faced with too many suspects when the actress is murdered.

 This book as in her first Cordelia Gray book has a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming. James allows Cordelia to shine on her own in this book and I think it makes it a much stronger book then the first.

I would recommend both books. I don’t know why James didn’t continue with the character of Cordelia Gray. In many ways with her flaws Cordelia is a much more human character than Dalgliesh.

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