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The Private Patient

Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

This is a novel in the series featuring P.D.James's fictional detective, Adam Dalgleish. Rhoda Gradwyn, the victim whose murder is the subject of the story, is an investigative journalist who has managed to create a lot of enemies in the course of her career, though now she is thinking of moving into the writing of biography. She has a scar on her face which was inflicted by her drunken father when she was a child; now she wants it removed so she consults a plastic surgeon and books into his clinic in a Dorset manor house. This is where she is murdered, the night after the operation. We experience this from her point of view and the description of her emotions as she lies in bed, helpless and increasingly terrified, is vivid.

For me, unfortunately, this was the best part of the book, which I felt went downhill from that point. Numerous other characters are introduced and we are given fairly lengthy accounts of their previous lives and characters; I tended to lose interest in these and as a result kept forgetting who the people were. Dalgleish, who is an intellectual and a poet as well as a detective, doesn't appear until p.131, and even when he does, much of the action is seen through the eyes of his two assistants—who, as usual, get a fair amount of biographical description in their own right.

The identity of the murderer becomes pretty obvious well before the end of the book, but I don't think concealing it artfully with lots of red herrings was James's intention; Dalgleish is no Poirot. Her real interest seems to be in the psychology of the characters, but they didn't really hold my attention. As a result I found the book too long, with too many detours; I thought it could have been quite a bit shorter with advantage. And in spite of its length, one minor mystery is not revealed at all. Rhoda says she wants her scar removed because she no longer has need of it; various characters in the story, including the surgeon, wonder what she meant by this, but as she is dead we never find out.

19 November 2009

%T The Private Patient
%A P.D.James
%I Penguin Books
%C London
%D 2008,2009
%G ISBN 978-0-141-04447-7
%P 498pp
%K fiction
%O paperback edition

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