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An Unsuitable Job for a Woman

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Handsome Cambridge dropout Mark Callender died hanging by the neck with a faint trace of lipstick on his mouth. When the official verdict is suicide, his wealthy father hires fledgling private investigator Cordelia Gray to find out what led him to self-destruction. What she discovers instead is a twisting trail of secrets and sins, and the strong scent of murder.

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Handsome Cambridge dropout Mark Callender died hanging by the neck with a faint trace of lipstick on his mouth. When the official verdict is suicide, his wealthy father hires fledgling private investigator Cordelia Gray to find out what led him to self-destruction. What she discovers instead is a twisting trail of secrets and sins, and the strong scent of murder.

30 review for An Unsuitable Job for a Woman

  1. 4 out of 5

    James Thane

    This book, which was first published in 1972, reads like it was written in 1947, if not earlier. It's very much in the tradition of English mysteries that were set in country houses in the years between the two world wars, and there's nothing in the book to suggest the time period in which it is supposed to actually take place. There are a number of young men and women in the book, but they don't sound remotely like the young people who were living in England in the '60s and '70s; rather they so This book, which was first published in 1972, reads like it was written in 1947, if not earlier. It's very much in the tradition of English mysteries that were set in country houses in the years between the two world wars, and there's nothing in the book to suggest the time period in which it is supposed to actually take place. There are a number of young men and women in the book, but they don't sound remotely like the young people who were living in England in the '60s and '70s; rather they sound much more like characters who would ultimately become the parents of those young people. P. D. James was 57 at the time this book appeared, which suggests that she probably didn't have a lot of contact with the young people of that era and didn't begin to understand them. The protagonist is a plucky female detective named Cordelia Gray, who also sounds like she just stepped out of the 1940s. She inherits the detective agency where she's worked for only a brief period, when her partner commits suicide after learning that he has cancer. Following the partner's funeral, Cordelia is asked to investigate the suicide of a young college dropout named Mark Callender. Callender's father is a prominent scientist who didn't have much contact with his son, but he tells Cordelia that he needs to know why his son would have hanged himself. Cordelia accepts the case and promptly moves into the primitive country cottage where the boy took his life, apparently to be as close as possible to the investigation. It will come as no surprise to anyone who's ever read a crime novel, let alone one in this particular sub-genre, that before long our intrepid heroine will begin to suspect that Mark Callender didn't actually kill himself but rather was murdered. Cordelia will question a number of the young man's friends and will go to parties and outings with them as her investigation proceeds. And before long, she will find herself in serious danger. This is a book that could have been shorter by a good thirty percent. There are endless descriptions of landscapes, houses, clothing and characters that go on and on and on and on unnecessarily. It's also very hard to take the story seriously because it unfolds in ways that often make no sense at all. That said, this is a pretty good example of a type of book that was once very popular in the mystery genre. Clearly the author had immersed herself in this field before writing the book and she then produced a novel that would have appealed to lots of readers "back in the day." It's hard to imagine, though, that this book would find much of an audience in the modern era. James would later abandon this character after only a few outings and turn to her much more successful and enjoyable (and believable) protagonist, Adam Dalgliesh, who makes a cameo appearance here. Readers curious to sample the work of P.D. James would be much better served by trying one of those novels.

  2. 4 out of 5

    kohey

    In this case,let me say “judge a book by its memorable title.” I’d like this book to be categorized as a good literary fiction with human drama,not just a detective. This well-written,and austerely beautiful novel has no gadget,isn’t action-packed or sexy,but here one young female detective, who lost her mentor recently,walks the scenes,talks to people and gets to the heart of things.I guess this simplicity will let you feel empathy for the charcters. I sometimes wonder how deceptive the word“simp In this case,let me say “judge a book by its memorable title.” I’d like this book to be categorized as a good literary fiction with human drama,not just a detective. This well-written,and austerely beautiful novel has no gadget,isn’t action-packed or sexy,but here one young female detective, who lost her mentor recently,walks the scenes,talks to people and gets to the heart of things.I guess this simplicity will let you feel empathy for the charcters. I sometimes wonder how deceptive the word“simple”is. P.D.James writes a good human story.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    Where I got the book: my local library. My first shock of this review is checking Wiki to see where this novel comes in P.D. James's oeuvre and discovering that P.D. stands for Phyllis Dorothy. Let me just take a moment. *clears throat* Now where was I? Right. The second shock was discovering I wasn't all that impressed. I thought I liked P.D James. Have I changed or is this the Death Comes to Pemberley effect? Anyway, I find that this was James's fifth novel. And indeed the writing is that of a sea Where I got the book: my local library. My first shock of this review is checking Wiki to see where this novel comes in P.D. James's oeuvre and discovering that P.D. stands for Phyllis Dorothy. Let me just take a moment. *clears throat* Now where was I? Right. The second shock was discovering I wasn't all that impressed. I thought I liked P.D James. Have I changed or is this the Death Comes to Pemberley effect? Anyway, I find that this was James's fifth novel. And indeed the writing is that of a seasoned author, fluent and vivid, the setup is clever, and if the detective heroine is rather unremarkable she's reasonably well sketched. I did like the idea of the abandoned cottage being loved again on one side but not on the other. Generally, though, I wasn't excited by the story. James can be a little bleak at times and I think "bleak" is definitely the word here. None of the characters really seem to give a damn about each other or anything else, really. As a reader I wanted to care more and I didn't; it was a puzzle to be solved and that was all. And then, we get near the end. And the heroine guesses the clue to the mystery (view spoiler)[(and that "clue" about the blood groups is reaching a bit imho) (hide spoiler)] and then the other key characters start filling in the details with cheerful abandon in a "oh well if you know that much" way. I hate it when they do that, because why should they? Especially in a world where all the characters bar the students have been anything but forthcoming. AND THEN (view spoiler)[Cordelia does something completely unprofessional by concealing the fact of the last murder. Why, seriously, would she risk her livelihood by doing that when all her character development points to caution? (hide spoiler)] AND THEN (view spoiler)[all the murderers conveniently die, like Hamlet. I don't mind leaving the stage littered with bodies but I think, as Dalgliesh points out, it's all a bit overly neat and tidy. (hide spoiler)] So now I'm both underimpressed AND annoyed. Not a good way to finish a detective novel.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Idarah

    "It's unwise to become to too personally involved with a human being. When that human being is dead, it can be dangerous as well as unwise." This is a reread for me, and I can't think why I didn't write a review before. I adored this book in 2012, as it was probably the first literary mystery I'd read of its kind, barring Elizabeth George. I always meant to get around to the second and last book in the short series, but never did. What entranced me were all the literary references, the Cambridge "It's unwise to become to too personally involved with a human being. When that human being is dead, it can be dangerous as well as unwise." This is a reread for me, and I can't think why I didn't write a review before. I adored this book in 2012, as it was probably the first literary mystery I'd read of its kind, barring Elizabeth George. I always meant to get around to the second and last book in the short series, but never did. What entranced me were all the literary references, the Cambridge setting, and James' use to imagery and language. On a second reading, it all came back to me! I think since the time initially reading this though, I've read many other amazing literary mysteries that James' probably inspired. Was surprised that I didn't adore it as much as before. Still determined to read the next book in the series, though!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lotte

    3.5/5. I loved the relatively slow pacing of the mystery and the descriptions of the cozy Cambridge atmosphere. Overall, I really enjoyed accompanying Cordelia on her first investigation, but I wish we'd gotten to know more about her earlier on in the story, as I felt quite distanced from her throughout the book. The ending didn't feel entirely plausible to me either.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Every now and again I seem to re-discover P.D. James, as though I forget how much I enjoy her books every time I pick them up. This is the first Cordelia Grey mystery (although there are only two). The series, short as it is, has links to Adam Dalgliesh – Cordelia Grey is the partner in a Private Detective agency, run by former police detective, Bernie Pryde, who used to work with Dalgliesh and he also features at the end of the book. For Bernie, who commits suicide at the beginning of this nove Every now and again I seem to re-discover P.D. James, as though I forget how much I enjoy her books every time I pick them up. This is the first Cordelia Grey mystery (although there are only two). The series, short as it is, has links to Adam Dalgliesh – Cordelia Grey is the partner in a Private Detective agency, run by former police detective, Bernie Pryde, who used to work with Dalgliesh and he also features at the end of the book. For Bernie, who commits suicide at the beginning of this novel (so no spoiler there), Dalgliesh is a fount of wisdom; his words often repeated and his advice passed down. Cordelia views the image of Dalgliesh with slight resentment, feeling that Bernie was pushed out of the force partly because of him. However, when Bernie kills himself, he leave the detective agency to her and she is determined to run it, despite the views of some, as the title suggests, that it is not a suitable job for a woman. Before long, Cordelia is involved in a new case – the son of Cambridge scientist, Sir Ronald Callendar, committed suicide and she is called in to discover why. She discovers that Mark Callendar gave up his university course and retreated to a job as a gardener, where he was found dead in the small cottage he slept in. Before long, she views the suicide as suspicious and her thoughts turn to murder… Although somewhat dated, this is an interesting mystery, with a good cast of suspects and characters. Cordelia Grey is young, without family and money. This was published in 1972 and there is a real sense of that era in certain attitudes and ideas. However, Cordelia is a likeable and enjoyable leading character and it is a shame that P.D. James only wrote one more novel in the series; “The Skull Beneath the Skin,” which published ten years after the first. I listened to this on Audible and it was read wonderfully by Katie Scarfe. P.D. James will be the challenge for one of the Goodreads Groups I help moderate – Reading the Detectives – next year (2020) and I look forward to re-acquainting myself with Adam Dalgliesh then.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    The writing is more accomplished and richer than is often the case in crime fiction but so much of this book feels unconvincing. The sheer number of suicides (2, or is that 3?), murders (3) and murderers (3) become wildly improbable and I still don't understand the motive for the main killing... (view spoiler)[ so Callender killed his son before going to the college dinner to give himself an alibi, but then why the need for the phone-call? And why did he do it? Because Mark found out he wasn't t The writing is more accomplished and richer than is often the case in crime fiction but so much of this book feels unconvincing. The sheer number of suicides (2, or is that 3?), murders (3) and murderers (3) become wildly improbable and I still don't understand the motive for the main killing... (view spoiler)[ so Callender killed his son before going to the college dinner to give himself an alibi, but then why the need for the phone-call? And why did he do it? Because Mark found out he wasn't the legal inheritee of his grandfather's fortune and was going to ruin Callender's reputation? But he was going to give the money to Callender anyway. Oh, I still don't get it! (hide spoiler)] The whole thing takes itself very seriously without a spark of humour in either the narrative or Cordelia. Did students in the 1970s really call people their 'lover' or describe themselves as being someone's 'mistress'? They're 20, they're young and free, wouldn't they just describe people as their boyfriend or girlfriend? The characters are written with great clarity but I found it hard to believe that an autodidact who left school at 16 and is only 22 now is quite this well-read and able to instantly spot an original Renoir. And the undergraduate party where all the students stand around chatting with no music, no drunkenness, and mingle with their tutors is nothing like any uni parties I remember... There's lots of procedure stuff, some wild leaps of intuition and an odd ending... quite a thin story under it all. It feels like James lost her way here: 2.5 stars rounded up.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lobstergirl

    Here we are, it's P.D. James's fifth novel, and one would hope to see writerly progress being made. More substantial plots, more fully fleshed characters. I want James to expand beyond the stale, misanthropic souls who people her books (Dalgliesh excepted). I feel a little iconoclastic saying this, because James is one of the more revered mystery writers. "...even minor P.D. James characters are fully realized, given a pedigree, a school background and an attitude toward life," says the New York Here we are, it's P.D. James's fifth novel, and one would hope to see writerly progress being made. More substantial plots, more fully fleshed characters. I want James to expand beyond the stale, misanthropic souls who people her books (Dalgliesh excepted). I feel a little iconoclastic saying this, because James is one of the more revered mystery writers. "...even minor P.D. James characters are fully realized, given a pedigree, a school background and an attitude toward life," says the New York Times (in a 1997 review of a different book). Yes, they are given those things, but that hardly makes them fully realized. In fact, in P.D. James a Cambridge student who punts on the River Cam usually just becomes shorthand for a snide, blasé snob. "She writes like an angel," the London Times informs us. If so, she's a very negative and ungenerous angel. Take this description of Miss Sparshott, a temporary typist at Cordelia Gray's detective agency, who is so temporary that she is gone after 13 pages: She was an unprepossessing woman with lips permanently taut as if to prevent the protruding teeth from springing from her mouth, a receding chin with one coarse hair which grew as quickly as it was plucked, and fair hair set in still corrugated waves. That chin and mouth seemed to Cordelia the living refutation that all men are born equal and she tried from time to time to like and sympathize with Miss Sparshott, with a life lived in bedsitting rooms, measured in the five-penny pieces fed to the gas stove and circumscribed by fell seams and hand hemming. Ouch! Is it really necessary to be so zealously mean, especially to a character given such brief exposure? Does this vivid description tell us more about Miss Sparshott, or about P.D. James, whose books are full of pitiful women like this? Aside from the misanthropy, the mystery is too slight. A suicide that Cordelia suspects is a murder; a young man dressed in women's lingerie and lipstick; some suspicious blood types. The plot only begins to get moderately interesting when Cordelia is tossed down a well on p. 202, and the first character who seems like a real human doesn't appear until Commander Dalgliesh in the last few pages.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Luffy

    Reading this book was a pleasure. However it did expose my lack of acute concentration, if not my imagining. There was one place in the book where I could do with some exactitude, that is the detective in the well part. Unlike many cozy, and English mystery books, there are quite some prurient quips lying about. Many of the physical traits of the supporting cast are confidently described. P.D. James is some writer. This book is one of the least domestic crime books I've ever read. The heroine l Reading this book was a pleasure. However it did expose my lack of acute concentration, if not my imagining. There was one place in the book where I could do with some exactitude, that is the detective in the well part. Unlike many cozy, and English mystery books, there are quite some prurient quips lying about. Many of the physical traits of the supporting cast are confidently described. P.D. James is some writer. This book is one of the least domestic crime books I've ever read. The heroine lives, during her investigation, in a decrepit so called cottage. But the author comes into her own element when describing Cambridge. The libraries, the churches, one graveyard, the University; all of them highly etched prosaically. The story is padded with a lot of description, but this treatment doesn't feel like butter spread too thinly on bread. It would be, had the mystery lasted 400 pages. But that's not the case. Pun unintended. The two things P.D. James laid emphasis on were smells, and the deduction from people's eyes. Most of the characters are presented, or hinted, as intelligent. Some are not clever enough. But even the Pilbean lady who is branded as stupid had the voice of an oracle herself. The richness of the prose forces admiration from me and, I'm sure, others too. Conversely, the author knows how to turn the style on and off. During passages of tangy urgency, she loses the descriptions, and action is shown rather than told. The main victim, Mark Callender, is a character that can be liked by some and disliked by others. I still don't know how generous, forgiving, or intelligent he was. The fact that he left his study sealed in fate. His death is pitiable, more so in its dressing and undressing. Even death here is seen differently from the characters at various points in the narrative. I have come to new words here, like "censorious"(3 times), "prurient", "theurgy", and "deletrious". I was interested to know how the author would hide her hand. Since we are seeing the plot unravel from Cordelia's view, the solution to the problem must occur at once and not in stages. I'm glad to say that almost nothing is held from the reader. That is more admirable considering the paucity of witnesses and suspects. The truth of the case was as startling as reading this book proved to be. My first P.D. James novel; excellent.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Candi

    This was a fun, quick and suspenseful mystery set in Cambridge, England. Novice private detective, Cordelia Gray, is a very likeable character. Left to figure the business out on her own after her partner takes his own life, Cordelia is hired by the successful scientist, Ronald Callender, to determine why his son Mark committed suicide. But did Mark really commit suicide? This is what Cordelia questions and seeks to divine for herself. Plenty of twists and questionable suspects made this a page- This was a fun, quick and suspenseful mystery set in Cambridge, England. Novice private detective, Cordelia Gray, is a very likeable character. Left to figure the business out on her own after her partner takes his own life, Cordelia is hired by the successful scientist, Ronald Callender, to determine why his son Mark committed suicide. But did Mark really commit suicide? This is what Cordelia questions and seeks to divine for herself. Plenty of twists and questionable suspects made this a page-turner for me. I appreciated the character development provided by P.D. James as well as the atmospheric feel of the Cambridge community. Never having been anywhere near Cambridge, I was still able to really visualize my surroundings, from the college itself to the ramshackle cottage which was the scene of the suicide and also Cordelia's temporary "home" while investigating the case. In addition to the spunk and resourcefulness of Cordelia, we are introduced to a variety of secondary characters with their own unique, and not necessarily pleasant, personalities. This book was wonderfully descriptive and exciting; unfortunately, I have just learned after finishing that there is only one other Cordelia Gray mystery in the series. Seems a shame as she was a very promising and enterprising young woman!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Trin

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I was disappointed by this. It did one of my least favorite mystery things: having the bad guy die in some accidental or self-inflicted manner so that the detective character will have less mess to deal with. And that happened three times in this book. THREE TIMES. Worse, as much as I really really wanted to like Cordelia Gray—James' female detective who's out to prove that solving crimes IS a suitable job for the ladies—I just couldn't get a sense of her. James gives her an appropriately weird I was disappointed by this. It did one of my least favorite mystery things: having the bad guy die in some accidental or self-inflicted manner so that the detective character will have less mess to deal with. And that happened three times in this book. THREE TIMES. Worse, as much as I really really wanted to like Cordelia Gray—James' female detective who's out to prove that solving crimes IS a suitable job for the ladies—I just couldn't get a sense of her. James gives her an appropriately weird background—Marxist father, educated in convents—but this origin story doesn't seem in any way connected to who Cordelia is now. There's no sense of how that background made her this person—or even who this person is. With only a moderately interesting mystery backed by a main character who remains pretty blank, there's just nothing all that memorable here.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Susy

    2.5 stars A very slow start and some slow, imo unnecessary digressions (to up the word count?). No surprising ending. Therefore I can't give it a full 3 star rating. On the other hand I didn't dislike it, so I feel 2 stars would be too low. Conclusion: 2.5 stars. Wouldn't read it again, don't know if I'll read anything by P.D. James again, although... I read in a couple of reviews that some people who normally do like her writing didn't like this one either. So who knows, maybe someday I'll give 2.5 stars A very slow start and some slow, imo unnecessary digressions (to up the word count?). No surprising ending. Therefore I can't give it a full 3 star rating. On the other hand I didn't dislike it, so I feel 2 stars would be too low. Conclusion: 2.5 stars. Wouldn't read it again, don't know if I'll read anything by P.D. James again, although... I read in a couple of reviews that some people who normally do like her writing didn't like this one either. So who knows, maybe someday I'll give another book of hers a try.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Dhanaraj Rajan

    Once a while, I like to read a crime/mystery novel. That does not mean that I hate reading crime novels. In fact, it is otherwise. The crime novels draw me into the book to such a level that I do not do anything else till I complete the novel. The crime novel should keep me engaged. Or else it ceases to interest me. I love to become part of the plot especially as the companion to the principal detective. It should challenge my intelligence as I tend to find out the culprit myself from the evidenc Once a while, I like to read a crime/mystery novel. That does not mean that I hate reading crime novels. In fact, it is otherwise. The crime novels draw me into the book to such a level that I do not do anything else till I complete the novel. The crime novel should keep me engaged. Or else it ceases to interest me. I love to become part of the plot especially as the companion to the principal detective. It should challenge my intelligence as I tend to find out the culprit myself from the evidences presented. It should present me with some interesting facts. If a crime novel contains all these, at the end I feel happy for having read it. This novel presented everything and specially I loved the last part where the mystery once solved went on for another chapter which was equally engaging. That is unusual for a crime thriller. Final Verdict: An entertainer......

  14. 4 out of 5

    Oodles

    Cordelia Gray finds herself the sole proprietor of the Private Investigation business she shared with her now deceased partner. Her first case is to investigate the suicide of a young man from a wealthy family who dropped out of college to become a gardener. There's no doubt it was suicide...or is there? Cordelia moves into the gardener's cottage and talks to his college friends to uncover the truth, often facing folks who really believe hers is an unsuitable job for a woman. This is P. D. James Cordelia Gray finds herself the sole proprietor of the Private Investigation business she shared with her now deceased partner. Her first case is to investigate the suicide of a young man from a wealthy family who dropped out of college to become a gardener. There's no doubt it was suicide...or is there? Cordelia moves into the gardener's cottage and talks to his college friends to uncover the truth, often facing folks who really believe hers is an unsuitable job for a woman. This is P. D. James' first novel of Cordelia Gray and it’s brilliant.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Eileen Daly-Boas

    No spoilers. A wonderful mystery that grabs you from the first page. James' descriptions of characters make them immediately three-dimensional, and you are pulled along with Cordelia Gray as her invisible Watson. I found Cordelia to be a very real character and although the book was published in 1972, it's still mostly timeless. The idea that everyone seems to think detective work is unsuitable for a woman shouldn't ring as true today, but it does. And every young woman (and perhaps man) finds No spoilers. A wonderful mystery that grabs you from the first page. James' descriptions of characters make them immediately three-dimensional, and you are pulled along with Cordelia Gray as her invisible Watson. I found Cordelia to be a very real character and although the book was published in 1972, it's still mostly timeless. The idea that everyone seems to think detective work is unsuitable for a woman shouldn't ring as true today, but it does. And every young woman (and perhaps man) finds that in their early twenties, *nobody* thinks they are quite suited to do the job they're doing. It's much more enjoyable in this case, as Cordelia is both competent, intelligent, and is very aware that she doesn't have "it" all together yet. There's no gratuitous sex, violence, or super-detailed recounting of bugs or blood spatters or things that are much more popular in police-procedural tv shows. It's not that sex and violence don't exist in this world, but you need not slog through page after page to imagine what it's like trying to get blood out of a carpet. This doesn't seem like an emotional novel, yet I have a fondness for the characters (even the evil ones) that comes from an interesting story that's well-told. I'm looking forward to many more P.D. James novels in my future.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Penny

    This is not P D James at her best. There are so many great detective books by this author but this is not one of them. This follows a young woman, Cordelia Gray, who is asked to investigate the suicide of a young man who was a student at Cambridge. She is asked to try to find out why he killed himself by the father. (view spoiler)[ as it turns out the father has killed the son in the first place - so would he really hire someone to look into the death? This seems utterly unbelievable to me. Appare This is not P D James at her best. There are so many great detective books by this author but this is not one of them. This follows a young woman, Cordelia Gray, who is asked to investigate the suicide of a young man who was a student at Cambridge. She is asked to try to find out why he killed himself by the father. (view spoiler)[ as it turns out the father has killed the son in the first place - so would he really hire someone to look into the death? This seems utterly unbelievable to me. Apparently he is trying to find out who else knew about the death as the body is tampered with in order to cover his tracks, and yet it is supremely stupid to hire someone to investigate a murder you knew you had committed!! In addition to this he himself is murdered and our young Miss Gray then proceeds to cover up the murder without a very strong motive for doing so - simply to save the young man's memory being soiled - surely that is a very weak reason to conceal a murder? Also she had no close relationship with the second murderer so why act so out of character? (hide spoiler)] All in all I found this far-fetched and without basis. I hoped that with the appearance of trusty Dalgleish at the end all would be found out but not so.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Susan Johnson

    I first read this novel 30 years ago and had forgotten just how good it was. After reading "Death at Pemberley" and being so bitterly disappointed, I was a little worried when my Goodreads book club selected this for this month's read. I was worried that it wouldn't be as good as I remembered. Thankfully, it was even better than the first time through. I will go back now and read the second Cordelia Gray and wonder why there arent't any more. Cordelia is a young, innocent detective called in by a I first read this novel 30 years ago and had forgotten just how good it was. After reading "Death at Pemberley" and being so bitterly disappointed, I was a little worried when my Goodreads book club selected this for this month's read. I was worried that it wouldn't be as good as I remembered. Thankfully, it was even better than the first time through. I will go back now and read the second Cordelia Gray and wonder why there arent't any more. Cordelia is a young, innocent detective called in by a rich man to investigate the suicide of his son. He wanted to know why his son killed himself. Cordelia immerses herself in Mark's, the son, life and untangles the mystery set before her. In the last few pages Adam Dalgliesh makes an appearance which is a nice surprise. The best part of this book is reading an interesting mystery by one of the greatest crime writers ever. What a treat. It also made me think of my friend who introduced me to PD James 30 years ago. I think I'll give her a call and thank her.

  18. 5 out of 5

    C.

    I was game to get started with Phyllis Dorothy James, when she passed away. It is difficult to describe “An Unsuitable Job For A Woman”. Suicide is a grisly introduction but many segments were slow. Interviews with informants played out languidly, instead of cutting to revealing parts. Many private musings were worth keeping because this is how we acquaint Cordelia Gray. Her unusual upbringing, having a somewhat crooked Father whilst educated at a convent school, informs her handling of life. Sh I was game to get started with Phyllis Dorothy James, when she passed away. It is difficult to describe “An Unsuitable Job For A Woman”. Suicide is a grisly introduction but many segments were slow. Interviews with informants played out languidly, instead of cutting to revealing parts. Many private musings were worth keeping because this is how we acquaint Cordelia Gray. Her unusual upbringing, having a somewhat crooked Father whilst educated at a convent school, informs her handling of life. She takes her late partner’s training to heart all the way. Bernie Pryde was an ex-police officer, who recognized sleuthing talent in Cordelia. A risky decision at the end is a doozey, flying against the formula of the mystery. I love authors who turn from the trod thoroughfare! My obstructions to becoming emotionally involved are that I scarcely empathized with Cordelia and cared for no other characters. I don’t think anyone could connect with her, by design or not, because her personality wavered in making itself known. Most notably, she was glum; a heavy tone that will have to lift. Three stars balance some drabness with the gifted narrating voice I enjoyed. Just when I felt pages dragging, excitement would perk them up. Cordelia was always working out something. Observational skill and intelligence inform readers of murder. Such complexities distinguish a standard mystery from the single avenue, “cozy” type. For example, why would a thorough personality quit a nearly-finished flowerbed row? Why handcraft a soup but kill oneself before partaking of it? I love that we begin in 1977, although England twisted my impressions towards historical fiction. In her twenties, Cordelia suited Cambridge University. I love her frequent remarks that “her interviews must be the strangest ever conducted”, perched upon campus lawns! Bernie could not have achieved what she did.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Karin

    Cordelia Gray, age 22, shows up to work one morning to find her boss, Bernie Pryde, dead by suicide; he has chosen this over suffering through cancer. While she’s handling this sorrow and the details, she is hired to find out why Cambridge dropout Mark Callendar has killed himself. The man who hires her is his father, and it doesn’t take Cordelia long to realize that murder is the far more likely cause of Mark’s death. The search Cordelia undertakes reveals surprises, twists, elements of danger a Cordelia Gray, age 22, shows up to work one morning to find her boss, Bernie Pryde, dead by suicide; he has chosen this over suffering through cancer. While she’s handling this sorrow and the details, she is hired to find out why Cambridge dropout Mark Callendar has killed himself. The man who hires her is his father, and it doesn’t take Cordelia long to realize that murder is the far more likely cause of Mark’s death. The search Cordelia undertakes reveals surprises, twists, elements of danger and all that you’d want in a well written murder/suspense/mystery/thriller novel. True, it doesn’t rush through things at a breakneck speed designed to give one nightmares after staying up all night reading it, but it doesn’t need to do so. The writing is at once simple and well done; moving along at a clip that does speed up at times, naturally, or it would merely be a cozy mystery. Since it is written in the 1970s there are no cell phones or electronic tracking means, which is such a refreshing change. I like Cordelia and am strongly considering reading the next one.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lili

    Find another badass woman to add to your fave list of badass females: check.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    I'm torn about whether to give this 3 or 4 stars. I'll give it 4 now, and we'll see how that goes. Maybe I'll read more by her and then reassess it against her larger oeuvre. Anyway, I really liked this a lot. I used to read mysteries like crazy in high school, but somehow I never read P. D. James. Pity. Her work has all of that typical coziness of the British mystery, but because the main character is a private eye, it doesn't strain credibility like Miss Marple or something, constantly stumbl I'm torn about whether to give this 3 or 4 stars. I'll give it 4 now, and we'll see how that goes. Maybe I'll read more by her and then reassess it against her larger oeuvre. Anyway, I really liked this a lot. I used to read mysteries like crazy in high school, but somehow I never read P. D. James. Pity. Her work has all of that typical coziness of the British mystery, but because the main character is a private eye, it doesn't strain credibility like Miss Marple or something, constantly stumbling onto another murder. Not that I've anything against Miss Marple. Also, P.D. James is just a good writer, period, genre or no. I hate the phrase "just happens to be," because it always makes me think of people writing or talking about some aspect of pop culture, be it singer or actor or character, and they say, "just happens to be gay." I don't know why it bothers me so, but it's like they're trying to prove how down they are, and like it's no big deal, and yet it rings false somehow. And so that phrase is sort of ruined for me, but I felt about this that I was really a really good piece of literary fiction that just happened to be a murder mystery.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Alex Ankarr

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I've always found James' work moderately clever, but overrated. There's a nasty distant, critical view of human nature that leaves me with a manky taste in my mouth. I mean to say - Jeeves - I can understand having a low opinion of your fellow creatures, but OTOH, who of us is without sin and you gotta love the little bastards anyway. Love 'em into insensibility. How are any of us getting any better otherwise? If we go down into the grave, each one of us, still slavering and frothing and hungeri I've always found James' work moderately clever, but overrated. There's a nasty distant, critical view of human nature that leaves me with a manky taste in my mouth. I mean to say - Jeeves - I can understand having a low opinion of your fellow creatures, but OTOH, who of us is without sin and you gotta love the little bastards anyway. Love 'em into insensibility. How are any of us getting any better otherwise? If we go down into the grave, each one of us, still slavering and frothing and hungering for destruction, then - well, then we're all Donald Trump. We can do better than that. Since I've marked this as spoilerish, I can freely say that Cordelia's girlish, 'secret' crush on a geezer old enough to be her granda - and a geezer every bit as charmlessly sour as James herself seems - makes me urp and heave. Mentally I have a picture of her 'artlessly' clasping her hands to her chest as she swoons like Dorothy out of Oz, and it's not charming and delightful. Lemme mis-quote Mary Karr: sometimes I pine for a sidearm.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Karin

    Cordelia Gray, age 22, shows up to work one morning to find her boss, Bernie Pryde, dead by suicide; he has chosen this over suffering through cancer. While she’s handling this sorrow and the details, she is hired to find out why Cambridge dropout Mark Callendar has killed himself. The man who hires her is his father, and it doesn’t take Cordelia long to realize that murder is the far more likely cause of Mark’s death. The search Cordelia undertakes reveals surprises, twists, elements of danger a Cordelia Gray, age 22, shows up to work one morning to find her boss, Bernie Pryde, dead by suicide; he has chosen this over suffering through cancer. While she’s handling this sorrow and the details, she is hired to find out why Cambridge dropout Mark Callendar has killed himself. The man who hires her is his father, and it doesn’t take Cordelia long to realize that murder is the far more likely cause of Mark’s death. The search Cordelia undertakes reveals surprises, twists, elements of danger and all that you’d want in a well written murder/suspense/mystery/thriller novel. True, it doesn’t rush through things at a breakneck speed designed to give one nightmares after staying up all night reading it, but it doesn’t need to do so. The writing is at once simple and well done; moving along at a clip that does speed up at times, naturally, or it would merely be a cozy mystery. Since it is written in the 1970s there are no cell phones or electronic tracking means, which is such a refreshing change. I like Cordelia and am strongly considering reading the next one.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lara

    This first book in a series featuring DI Dalgliesh, but mainly from the wings. He only plays a cameo role, but he is mentioned many times. It is really the story of a young woman in the 70s who is having to make it in the world on her own. Despite her social isolation, she is caring and is willing to use her intelligence as well as her looks to further her cause. The book is full of the culture of the day; when young women were raised to do the washing up, make tea, and not challenge men. But, i This first book in a series featuring DI Dalgliesh, but mainly from the wings. He only plays a cameo role, but he is mentioned many times. It is really the story of a young woman in the 70s who is having to make it in the world on her own. Despite her social isolation, she is caring and is willing to use her intelligence as well as her looks to further her cause. The book is full of the culture of the day; when young women were raised to do the washing up, make tea, and not challenge men. But, it is also the 70s, a time of breaking down social roles. Her job as a detective is considered 'unsuitable' by most, yet it seems to suit her. The case is a suicide of a young man that has left many questions. By the end of the tale we have many answers, yet nothing is as it seemed. There was one clue that I figured out early, but there were also many twists that I did not expect. While it was not a cozy mystery, it was not overly dark, and was overall quite satisfying.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Marilyn Green Faulkner

    PD James is the finest mystery writer today I think. Her vocabulary is not only challenging, but spot-on. When she uses a word, it belongs where it lands. She is marvelously well read, and laces her narrative with beautiful quotations from classic authors. Her mysteries are always intriguing, and I've never figured one out before the end. I started with one of the last Adam Dalgliesh novels and worked my way backward to the beginning. Recently I realized that she wrote two novels about a female PD James is the finest mystery writer today I think. Her vocabulary is not only challenging, but spot-on. When she uses a word, it belongs where it lands. She is marvelously well read, and laces her narrative with beautiful quotations from classic authors. Her mysteries are always intriguing, and I've never figured one out before the end. I started with one of the last Adam Dalgliesh novels and worked my way backward to the beginning. Recently I realized that she wrote two novels about a female detective named Cordelia Gray that I had somehow missed. This is the first of those. It is absolutely delightful. Five enthusiastic stars for Cordelia!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    Another good read with twists and turns in the plot. I enjoyed the fact that the protagonist was a young woman who was detecting for the first time on her own. Again, the writing was wonderful with great use of vocabulary and an interesting storyline. I will continue to read this author. It is refreshing to see that even after the age of 40 an author can produce a fascinating series of books. This lady just recently passed at the age of 94 but leaves a great legacy of novels.

  27. 4 out of 5

    booklady

    Saw more Dorothy L. Sayers in this than in any of the previous James books. Was looking for a mystery and saw this had Cambridge as a setting. My daughter leaves for there this week. Wanted to give her something fun to read for the journey. She's going on a course and has lots of mandatory reading.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Gisela Hafezparast

    Very much of it's time! Despite the title 70s attitudes to society, women and crime.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Shelley

    A friend had rec'd PD James as an author I might enjoy a few years ago and now I feel like I ought to have gotten around to reading her earlier. To be frank, this book felt really comforting because it's precisely in my element -- a young, strong-willed female detective; a British country house mystery with a Cambridge cameo; and an amorphous 20th century time period devoid of war or computers. James had lovely turns of phrase. A lot of the tone of this book felt reminiscent of Christie -- and y A friend had rec'd PD James as an author I might enjoy a few years ago and now I feel like I ought to have gotten around to reading her earlier. To be frank, this book felt really comforting because it's precisely in my element -- a young, strong-willed female detective; a British country house mystery with a Cambridge cameo; and an amorphous 20th century time period devoid of war or computers. James had lovely turns of phrase. A lot of the tone of this book felt reminiscent of Christie -- and yet, what impressed me so much was how James pushed everything I loved, was used to, just that little bit further. I loved her protagonist. Cordelia was not only independent and gutsy, but she's delightfully cold. She's logical, unsentimental, blunt -- and unapologetically so. Yet she also recognises how her gender, age, and middle class accent are tools in her arsenal. I loved it. Books that remind me of the limitations on womanhood I sometimes find hard to handle. But I find I really enjoy when authors (Cather, EM Forster, Austen) acknowledge these limits, and have the characters triumphing against expectations. -- Here, James created wonderfully flawed female characters, and in their words: "What is there to be frightened of? We shall only be dealing with men." Two other character phrases I enjoyed: "Beauty is intellectually confusing; it sabotages common sense" and "I shall have to be grateful to you for the rest of my life. That for me is an unaccustomed humility and I'm not sure that I like it". The resolution of the actual mystery was all right; but what James does after that really caught my attention. I don't want to say too much because this is a mystery and I don't want to spoil the end. But... I found myself surprised, and that was lovely. I've read far too many mystery novels along this vein -- like I said, this felt in my element -- and this book surprised me. I'm reminded of this Penn and Teller bit: "I don't think there's a nicer thing you could do for a magician than to use his knowledge to fool the heck out of him." -- It felt like that.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Carina

    P.D. James is one of those authors who I have wanted to read for a while now - most notably Death Comes to Pemberley, so when Sophie lent me An Unsuitable Job for a Woman I was more than happy to read this book. Unfortunately I didn't find it particularly good. I'm not entirely sure why that is either, Cordelia came across as a well-rounded character, the world she was in seemed pretty realistic. The writing was good, well formated, conversations between people weren't overly stilted unless it wa P.D. James is one of those authors who I have wanted to read for a while now - most notably Death Comes to Pemberley, so when Sophie lent me An Unsuitable Job for a Woman I was more than happy to read this book. Unfortunately I didn't find it particularly good. I'm not entirely sure why that is either, Cordelia came across as a well-rounded character, the world she was in seemed pretty realistic. The writing was good, well formated, conversations between people weren't overly stilted unless it was clear they were meant to be. But... I just didn't like this. I felt that the plot was a bit convenient, more like things fell into place for Cordelia as opposed to her doing much detecting, and the outcome... at the time of reading I almost wondered if pages were missing, or I'd somehow started to read a scene from a future book. But now, knowing there is a series about Dalgliesh (the first of which has been on my To Read list for a while) it makes me think this ties into one of his stories somehow. I'd say that, although there is little in this to recomend the other Cordelia Gray book to me (though if I were to come across it I wouldn't not read it), I would still like to try some of the other books by this author out.

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