Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

"An Unsuitable Job for a Woman" by P.D. James (faber and faber, 1972)

My first P.D. James book. New people are introduced by descriptions in time-honoured fashion -

  • Leaming - "wearing a grey suit with a small stand-away collar which showed a narrow band of white cotton at the throat ... She was tall and her hair, prematurely white, was cut short and moulded to her head like a cap. Her face was pale and long" (p.17)
  • Lunn - "stockily built young man dressed in an open-necked white shirt, dark breeches and tall boots .. His grip was momentary but remarkably strong ... large mud-brown eyes ... beautiful, moist calves' eyes heavily lashed and with the same look of troubled pain at the unpredictability of the world. But their beauty emphasized rather than redeemed the unattractiveness of the rest of him" (p.22)
  • Marklands - "All three reminded her of horses. They had long. bony faces, narrow mouths about strong, square chins, eyes set unattractively close, and grey, coarse-looking hair" (p.40)
  • Tillings - "strong dark heads held high on usually short necks, and their straight noses above curved, foreshortened upper lips" (p.72)
  • de Lasterie - "an oval face with a neat slender nose, a small but beautifully formed mouth, and slanted eyes of a striking deep blue which gave her whole face an oriental appearance at variance with the fairness of her skin and her long blonde hair." (p.72)
  • Stevens - "a stocky, bearded young man with russet curly hair and a spade-shaped face" (p.72)
  • police surgeon - "a fat, dishevelled little man, his face crumpled and petulant as a child when forcibly woken from sleep" (p.182)
  • Dalgliesh - "tall, austere ... over forty at least ... dark, very tall and loose-limbed ... His face was sensitive without being weak" (p.208)

Sometimes there are sentences whose style jars - e.g. "A privileged sparrow hopped across the immaculate lawn and cocked a bright insouciant eye" (p.63)

By p.136 the tightly scripted plot's at its thickest. We get a plot summary - "no theory which would at once explain the mystery of Mark's birth, Isabelle's terror, Hugo and Sophie's secret knowledge, Miss Markland's obsessive interest in the cottage, Sergeant Maskell's almost reluctant suspicions, the oddities and unexplained inconsistencies which surrounded Mark's death". By p.176 the book could have finished. It could have finished at p.205 after the inquest and the talk with Marland, but goes on for another 15 pages. The final 15 pages don't quite compensate for the previous 30.

I'd expected the make-up to be a clue - its untidiness was presumably not of Leaming's doing. I expected the blood-group on the donor card to be a clue. I thought the suicide message would hold a clue, but didn't see it until it was explained. I thought the gun wouldn't be in its hiding place every time (a fuss is made each time about it still being there). I was surprised that

  • Miss Markland sensed that Cordelia was thinking of living in the cottage for a time
  • Cordelia stayed in the cottage after the warning

p.15 "pored over it" - typo?

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