Sunday 16 November 2008

The Private Patient

I was very pleased to be sent a review copy of the latest Adam Dalgleish mystery, The Private Patient, written by P.D.James. I’ve realised that I’ve barely mentioned James' work in almost a year of blog posts, and that is quite an omission, not only because she is undoubtedly one of the major British crime writers of the past half century, but also because I have a great deal of admiration for her and her work.

P.D. James is now 88, and she is certainly one of ‘the great and the good’ – her c.v. is deeply impressive, and she is a member of the House of Lords. As she points out in the dedication to this book, she has been published by Faber for ‘forty six unbroken years’ – a remarkable achievement by any standards. Her first book, Cover Her Face, was conventional detective fiction, but written nonetheless with a considerable assurance, and as her confidence grew, she established herself as a major figure in the genre. I’ve read almost all of her books, including an interesting non-fiction story about a real life case, The Maul and The Pear Tree, and my favourites are Death of an Expert Witness, Innocent Blood, A Certain Justice and, finest of all in my opinion, Devices and Desires.

James excels at ‘closed communities’. Dalgleish is her most popular character, and he was very well portrayed on television first by Roy Marsden and then by Martin Shaw, but I also liked Cordelia Gray from An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. (Cordelia’s reappearance, in The Skull Beneath the Skin, struck me as a rare misfire, and the television series featuring Cordelia didn’t do much for me either.) Of one thing I am certain - her best books will stand the test of time. She is one of the finest British detective novelists of this or any other generation.


Anonymous said...

Looking forward to your review of this one, Martin. I used to read all of her books but found the one about 4 books ago so slow and tedious that I haven't read any since- though I do have the next one she wrote after that (The Murder Room I think it is called). When I was a teenager I enjoyed the early Dalgleish (and Cordelia Gray) books, and was sad that she dropped the character in favour of less interesting (to me) women.

I think I probably saw a few of the Roy Marsden TV programmes but can't remember much about them. I also saw a movie (or TV film?) based on the Cordelia book An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. I had not realised that Martin Shaw took over as Dalgleish. I guess I find most crime fiction on TV very clunky, not that I have watched any for ages, but I am looking forward to Kenneth Branagh's Wallander next Sunday 23 Nov (based on Henning Mankell books).

ulaca said...

She's indefatigable. Maxine, you're welcome to read my review while you're waiting for Martin's.

Martin Edwards said...

Indefatigible is a good description for James, Ulaca. I think it's astonishing to publish a best-seller at 88, let alone a book with as many intriguing ingredients as this one. Thanks for guiding me to your review and blog.

Nan said...

Elaine posted a terrific review of The Private Patient here:

I'm going to buy it for my 85 year old father in law for Christmas. And I want to read it myself.

Is Devices and Desires the one with stigmata? If so, I agree that this is the best of all. It still haunts me.

Karen (Euro Crime) said...

I grew up on the Roy Marsden Dalgliesh series - I loved the multiple parters, something we rarely get these days. The only book I've read is Devices and Desires which I loved for its Norfolk setting as much as the intricate plot. I don't know why I've not read any more yet.

Anonymous said...

No, the stigmata is in A Taste for Death, one of P.D. James' greatest of the Dalgliesh series. Devices and Desires involved the serial killer on the coastlands.