Classic detective fiction

2008-11-26 00:00

When the notorious investigative journalist Rhoda Gradwyn booked into Mr Chancellor-Powell’s private clinic in Dorset for the removal of a disfiguring facial scar, she expected to have a successful operation by a distinguished surgeon, a week’s peaceful convalescence in beautiful Cheverell Manor, and the beginning of a new life. But Rhoda was never to leave the Manor alive, and Commander Adam Dalgliesh and his team find themselves with a complicated case, involving a second murder, on their hands.

At 88, P. D. James has lost none of her skill. The book is, of course, a variant of the grand old country house mystery, popular since well before the heyday of Agatha Christie, but there are few writers of any vintage capable of handling it as stylishly as James still does. Literate, elegantly plotted, replete with colourful and believable characters, it unfolds at a leisurely pace, revealing plot and subplot, twists and ramifications, and knots and links enough to delight any aficionado’s heart. Will it be James’s last book? Perhaps she thinks so, for at long last the austere Adam Dalgliesh, widely respected poet, perceptive and supremely intelligent detective, relinquishes his bachelor state: the novel ends with his marriage to his beloved Emma, an event no long-time Dalgliesh fan could disapprove. A thoroughly likeable book which should make an ideal Christmas present for anyone who loves classic detective fiction.

Stephanie Alexander

• The Private Patient is on this year’s Exclusive Books’ List

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