‘An Unsuitable Job for a Woman’ by P. D. James


‘An Unsuitable Job for a Woman’ by P. D. James    (1977) – 250 pages

‘An Unsuitable Job for a Woman’ is a no-nonsense novel.  By that I mean that the young woman detective at the center of this novel, twenty-two year old Cordelia Gray, has no romantic entanglements distracting her from her detective work. Unlike the heroines of Jane Austen, one of many nineteenth century writers who are mentioned in this novel, she is not actively pursuing a husband.  Instead Cordelia is entirely and determinedly devoted to solving her case.

Cordelia used to be partners in the Pryde Detective Agency – “We take a Pride in our Work” – but her partner Bernie Pryde commits suicide by slitting his wrists at the very beginning of this novel.  Her first case after Bernie’s death also involves a suicide.  Former college student Mark Callender has hanged himself in his room, and his parents want to know why he did it.  They hire Cordelia Gray to figure out their son’s mysterious death.

Instead of thinking about guys she wants to date, Cordelia uses ratiocination or the power of reasoning to solve the mystery.  This alternate use of her reasoning mind by Cordelia is tremendously refreshing for this reader and I suspect for a whole lot of other readers.  It goes a long way toward explaining the popularity of P. D. James as a writer of detective fiction.

P.D. James died a few years ago, and as a reader mainly of literary fiction I do like to read the best of detective fiction for its literary qualities. This has brought me to such writers as Ruth Rendell, Georges Simenon, Louise Penney, and now P. D. James.

Yes, young woman Cordelia is more cerebral than most detectives.  ‘An Unsuitable Job for a Woman’ takes place on or near Cambridge University, and the novel relates frequent loving descriptions of sites on campus and interesting items in Cambridge’s history as we go around the campus.  At one point we are punting on the River Cam just like any good Cambridger.  The novel is so fully immersed in the atmosphere of Cambridge University, I am tempted to call it an academic mystery.

Above all, we readers want a detective who is sharper than we are at tracking down clues and at figuring out possible scenarios, and Cordelia Gray meets those requirements.

‘An Unsuitable Job for a Woman’ is a mixture of intelligent deduction and gripping suspense.  For those interested in mayhem, there is plenty of that along the way.  Some of the predicaments Cordelia finds herself in are a little far-fetched, – Why does Cordelia move into the very house where the hanging occurred? – But it’s all in good fun.


Grade:   B+



2 responses to this post.

  1. This takes me back many years to the pleasure of discovering P.D James. I dont think this was the first one I read but I enjoyed it when I finally got to it



    • Hi BookerTalk,
      Most of P. D. James’ novels star Chief Inspector Adam Dalgliesh, and Cordelia Gray stars in only two, Still the young lively Gray is a refreshing change operating independently of the police department,.

      Liked by 1 person


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