The Private Patient

By P. D. James

The Short Take:

Another intelligent Adam Dalgliesh mystery by a master of the form. As always, beautifully written without contrivances yet still filled with surprises.


What can one say? It’s P. D. James! She’s amazing at this. Her mysteries belong in a totally different class – a very classy class with rich language as well as well-paced plots.

If you are not familiar with her Adam Dalgleish, you have a treat in store. He’s not your typical quirky British crime solver (well, he does write poems — which do not appear in James’ books). Dalgleish is smart, calm, astute, reserved, observant, pretty much perfect. His team includes two other very smart, reserved, observant detectives who want to become perfect.

Does this make James’ work sound boring? It certainly is not. The crimes are complicated, the suspects are complicated, even the solutions — no matter how pat they might appear to the rest of the world — are known to be complicated by Dalgleish and his team.

At 89, James remains at the top of her game. This is her 19th mystery (not all feature Dalgleish). She also wrote one sci-fi book, Children of Men, which was made into a pretty good movie a couple of years ago, plus she’s written some non-fiction. It’s all good.

If you haven’t tried any P. D. James and you like smart mysteries, you have a real treat coming. Don’t worry about reading them in order. Yes, there are some continuing threads, but they’re simple and somewhat minor parts of her books. Just enjoy.

A Little Plot:

Investigative journalist Rhoda Gradwyn decides to have a major facial scar removed at a private, rural estate by a famed plastic surgeon. Shortly after successful surgery, someone kills her. Is it someone with a grudge against Rhoda? A money hungry friend? Someone hurt by her previous reporting? A person who would like to destroy the surgeon’s reputation? A stranger?

Rhoda’s life was so private, determining any motive is beyond difficult. But you-know-who never backs down.

One thing in particular I really like about this mystery: Even when the case is “solved,” we readers know that some things that should be known will never come to light, and some assumptions made were totally incorrect. It’s touches like this that make James so great.

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