When Cordelia Gray’s boss at the Pryde Detective Agency dies, he leaves her the business… and an unregistered gun. And so begins An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by PD James, with a female private detective who is a long way away from Adam Dalgliesh, James’s famous creation, but who has been trained by an ex-copper who worked for Dalgliesh. And so the tentacles of ‘the Super’ stretch to Cambridge where Cordelia Gray undertakes her first case.
She is not a female private detective in the busybodying, gossiping style of Miss Marple or Agatha Raisin, but a liberated, independent woman who is financially motivated to make a success of her business. Employed by a Cambridge scientist, Sir Ronald Callender, to discover why his son Mark dropped out of university and committed suicide soon after, Cordelia takes up lodging in the rundown gardener’s cottage where Mark died. So much is unclear. Mark left a stew uncooked and a garden fork stuck in half-dug earth. His friends feign friendliness to Cordelia but dance around her questions. Sir Ronald’s assistant/housekeeper is superior and unhelpful. The Marklands, who employed Mark in his last few weeks, are shadows on the edge of the story. Something is evidently not right and Cordelia is soon convinced Mark was murdered. But how can it be proved?
This is a satisfying read with plenty of twists, mysteries and unexplained behaviour. The Seventies college setting in Cambridge – student parties, punting on the Cam – felt authentic. And I did not guess the ending.
Disappointingly, PD James only wrote two Cordelia Gray novels, this in 1972 and The Skull Beneath the Skin ten years later.
‘An Unsuitable Job for a Woman’ by PD James, Cordelia Gray #1 [UK: Faber]
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