Unnatural Causes - P.D. James, A- ~ BitterSweetLife

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Unnatural Causes - P.D. James, A-

A Flash Review: Mysterious Logic

Unnatural Causes - P.D. James, A-

I keep dropping hints that my
Master Book List is about to explode on the scene—and it is, it really is. The reason I’m dragging my feet is that I’d like have brief reviews posted for most of the books I’m showcasing before I nail up the definitive directory of lit excellence.

So, as you await the incarnation of the Master List, comfort yourself with the assurance that it is fast approaching. Really. But first—

I’ve been making a sustained effort to keep readers updated on my steady exploration of P.D. James’ early work, starring Adam Dalgliesh. Why? Well, for this obvious reason: a beautifully extricable mystery series that helps you stay sane through the academic haze earns a special place in your heart. Reading P.D. James has a defogging effect on the mind. The cases are solvable, the clues are logical, and the villains are culpable—a refreshing contrast to educational vagaries—and, well, life.

If this is the first James review you’ve seen, you may want to scan my accounts of the previous mystery books. Or if you barely tolerate my book reviews, you may prefer to jump straight to Bittersweetness.

In this, the third book in the Adam Dalgliesh series, James sets her mystery amid ominous land and seascapes which mirror Dalgliesh’s turbulent inner life. I had the feeling, while absorbing the stark environ, that James was using her scenery like a scalpel to evoke precisely the emotional backdrop she wanted for her story. I knew that I was being manipulated, and welcomed it.

As you would expect, James unveils a slightly deeper layer of Dalgliesh’s persona, but with restraint. After reading five Dalgliesh stories (out of order, unfortunately), the Scotland Yard wonderboy remains an enigma—and this is to be applauded. Waiting for a plot summary? Here’s a one-sentence take: In Unnatural Causes, Dalgliesh engages in some amateur sleuthing while on vacation, struggles in his role of second fiddle, and reveals a morbid personal detachment that casts him in the mold of tragic hero.

Read consecutively, James’ work improves on each outing. It’s readily apparent how these early volumes won her the “master” status she now enjoys.

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monster said...

AJ: Have you read any of Chesterton's Father Brown stories? Or his The Man Who Was Thursday?

Ariel said...

Monster, you mention one of this blog's revered ones. G.K. Chesterton is a personal favorite. I read the Father Brown stories and Thursday when I was in my early teens and recently had my G.K.-esteem enhanced by an encounter with Orthodoxy. What's the extent of your Chesterton exposure? And (especially) do you see similarities between James and Chesterton, which prompted your question? If so, be sure to share 'em.

monster said...

I have not read James. Since you are talking about mysteries and had mentioned Orthodoxy I thought I'd check with you about Fr Brown & Thursday.

I am no expert on Chesterton but I love him. I've read most of the basics. Compared to what he wrote I have read little. But I'm working on it. Also I've enjoyed reading Gilbert Magazine the past couple of years and am now subscribing to The Chesterton Review as well.

If you liked Orthodoxy make sure that you also read Heretics which was its prequel.


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife