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Unnatural Causes by P.D. James Review

Title: Unnatural Causes

Author: P.D. James

First published January 1, 1967

218 pages, Paperback

ISBN: 9780571204106 (ISBN10: 0571204104)

Rating: 3.9

Overview

Unnatural Causes by P.D. James is an enthralling mystery novel featuring Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh. His peaceful holiday plans at his aunt’s cottage on the remote Suffolk coast are disrupted when a murder takes place.

The body of a well-known crime writer, Maurice Seaton, is found mutilated in a drifting dinghy, leading Dalgliesh to investigate the macabre crime. As he delves deeper into the case, he uncovers shocking secrets and suspects lurking in the shadows.

The captivating plot and clever twists will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the very end.

About the Author

Phyllis Dorothy James White, also known as P.D. James, was a British novelist famous for her crime stories featuring Adam Dalgliesh, a detective from Scotland Yard. She grew up in Cambridge, where her father worked as a civil servant.

Unfortunately, she had to quit her education at 16 due to financial issues. In 1941, she married a medical student named Ernest C.B. White, who unfortunately returned from the war with mental health issues and spent much of his life in psychiatric hospitals.

To support her family, James worked in hospital administration until her husband’s death in 1964. She then became a civil servant in the criminal section of the Department of Home Affairs.

In 1962, James published her first mystery novel, Cover Her Face, which introduced the character of Adam Dalgliesh. She went on to write six more books featuring the detective before retiring from government service in 1979 to pursue writing full-time.

Dalgliesh is a serious and introspective person who rises through the ranks of Scotland Yard, becoming a chief superintendent and then a commander. James’s novels are known for their fully developed characters and classic mystery devices.

Many of the books featuring Dalgliesh were adapted for television due to their popularity. James was called the “Queen of Crime” and wrote 14 Dalgliesh novels, with the last, The Private Patient, published in 2008.

James also wrote two novels featuring Cordelia Gray, a young private detective named An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (1972) and The Skull Beneath the Skin (1982). The former was adapted into a television movie and a short-lived series.

In addition to crime novels, James explored other genres such as dystopian fiction in The Children of Men (1992; film 2006), and even wrote a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813) called Death Comes to Pemberley (2011), which was set against the backdrop of a murder investigation. James also wrote non-fiction works, including The Maul and the Pear Tree (1971), co-written with historian T.A. Critchley, which tells the story of the Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811, and Talking About Detective Fiction (2009), a thoughtful examination of the genre.

Her memoir, Time to Be in Earnest, was published in 2000. James was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1983 and was made a life peer in 1991.

Editoral Review

Unnatural Causes by P.D. James is a fascinating and intricate murder mystery that explores the darker side of human nature. Published for the first time in 1967, it is one of the many works of fiction written by James, who is widely considered to be one of the most notable and successful crime writers of all time.

With its well-developed plot, multidimensional characters, and masterful writing style, Unnatural Causes is a timeless classic that has stood the test of time. The story is set in the sleepy and affluent village of Cheverell Manor, where the affluent and powerful reside.

The village is thrown into turmoil when the town physician is found dead, covered in blood in his surgery room. The local police force immediately launches an investigation into the untimely death, and they quickly discover that everyone in the village seems to hold a motive for wanting the doctor dead.

James masterfully sketches out the personalities and backgrounds of the major players in the murder investigation. The detective Adam Dalgliesh is an intriguing and complex character, who is both methodical and intuitive in his approach to solving crimes.

The supporting cast is equally fascinating, from the aggrieved widowed wife to the ambitious and shady local business owner. James has a real gift for writing believable and compelling characters that the reader cant help but find themselves drawn to.

However, as with all murder mysteries, there is much more to the story than meets the eye. Suspects are arrested and then cleared, only for new evidence to arise that points the finger of blame elsewhere.

The plot of Unnatural Causes is full of twists and turns that will keep the reader on the edge of their seat, and Jamess writing style is so elegant and sophisticated that it is genuinely hard to put the book down. Unnatural Causes is a book that is not just an engaging read but is also a fascinating insight into the social hierarchies and conventions of rural England during the mid-twentieth century.

The characters in the story are all well-drawn with complicated motivations, and their actions and words mirror the societal norms and expectations of their time. Beyond its historical and cultural significance, the book continues to be relevant today because it explores the same themes that continue to dominate our society.

The themes of power, ambition, love, and jealousy that course throughout the book are as relevant today as they were when the book was first published. Overall, Unnatural Causes is a marvelous book that is sure to please fans of the murder mystery genre.

Jamess craft is evident throughout the book, and she is at her best when she is weaving together the intricate plot lines and introducing new layers of complexity to the story. The book is not without its flaws; some readers might find the pacing to be slow at times, but to some others, it is a necessary aspect of building suspense.

On balance, though, the book is a joy to read, and it is deserving of nothing less than the highest recommendation.

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