Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Private Patient by P.D James

Protagonist: Cmdr. Adam Dalgliesh
Setting: London and Dorset
Rating: 4.5
The first line says it all: "On November the twenty-first, the day of her forty-seventh birthday, and three weeks and two days before she was murdered, Rhoda Gradwyn went to Harley Street to keep a first appointment with her plastic surgeon, and there in a consulting room designed, so it appeared, to inspire confidence and allay apprehension, made the decision which would lead inexorably to her death."

With that beautifully-crafted sentence, P.D. James takes us to Cheverell Manor, a private clinic in Dorset where Gradwyn, a well-known investigative journalist, checks in to have a lifelong facial scar removed. As we know, she's murdered. In typical Jamesian manner, that's followed by another murder at the clinic.

I could never be totally dissatisfied with a James novel -- she is one of my favorite novelists, after all -- but I expected more of a wrap-up in this final novel, the 14th in the series. James, now 90, has said this will likely be her last Dalgliesh novel. And while Dalgliesh, of New Scotland Yard, does finally marry Emma Lavenham, it comes at the very end of the novel and is dealt with almost as an afterthought (three pages). James always kept Dalgliesh an enigma, and he remains so at the end of this series. While James fleshed out some of his underlings -- Det. Insp. Kate Miskin especially -- Dalgliesh always remained somewhat at a distance. And maybe that's for the best -- it's always good for some mystery to remain.

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