2007: 49. Unnatural Causes    

“The corpse without hands lay in the bottom of a small sailing dinghy drifting just within sight of the Suffolk coast.  It was the body of a middle-aged man, a dapper little cadaver, its shroud a dark pin-striped suit which fitted the narrow body as elegantly in death as it had in life.”

Unnatural Causes, P.D. James

This book takes place in Suffolk, at the home of Adam Dagliesh’s aunt (the same aunt who would later die, leaving him a home in Norfolk that is the location of Devices and Desires).  A neighbor, the mystery writer Maurice Suffolk, is murdered, and found in a dingy with his hands severed at the wrists.  A superlatively grim death, and a nice local mystery, as it turns out, only the members of the isolated coastal community could have been responsible for the crime.  This was not my favorite James, though, for a number of reasons.

First of all, this is another murder where Dagliesh is not the lead detective, but just a visitor who happens to be there when crime happens.  This is a famous trick of mystery novelists (indeed, it is, as I have previously alluded to, the Jessica Fletcher problem), but it is particularly unnecessary when your protagonist is a detective at Scotland Yard!! It’s not interesting to read about Dagliesh feeling awkward investigating when the local police are technically in charge, and its not like he’s ever even a suspect, so it seems ridiculous.  

Secondly, the book falls back on a classic mystery trap - having the murderer write a long boring confession of how she did it.  Boring, P.D., boring.  Finally, why does Dagliesh always have to be attacked or have his life attempted on? I mean, does that usually happen to the police? I think not.  James is very good at characters, and she can write an English sentence.  Her solution to the mysteries are usually pretty good.  But I think that her skill sometimes makes you forget how reliant she can be on boring mystery cliches.


Recommended for:  James completists, and people interested in mystery writers (there is a nice bit about the Cadaver Club, a club for men - and only men - with some interest in crime)


Date/Place Completed:

Categories:  Fiction; Re-Read; PD James Project

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017