Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

The Private Patient (Adam Dalgliesh Series #14)

The Private Patient (Adam Dalgliesh Series #14)

3.7 108
by P. D. James

See All Formats & Editions

National Bestseller. 

Cheverell Manor is a beautiful old house in Dorset, which its owner, the famous plastic surgeon George Chandler-Powell, uses as a private clinic.  When the investigative journalist, Rhoda Gradwyn, arrives to have a disfiguring facial scar removed, she has every expectation of a successful operation and a peaceful week


National Bestseller. 

Cheverell Manor is a beautiful old house in Dorset, which its owner, the famous plastic surgeon George Chandler-Powell, uses as a private clinic.  When the investigative journalist, Rhoda Gradwyn, arrives to have a disfiguring facial scar removed, she has every expectation of a successful operation and a peaceful week recuperating.  But the clinic houses an implacable enemy and within hours of the operation Rhoda is murdered.   Commander Dalgliesh and his team are called in to investigate a case complicated by old crimes and the dark secrets of the past.  But Before Rhoda's murder is solved, a second horrific death adds to the complexities of one of Dalgliesh's most perplexing and fascinating cases.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Brilliant. . . . A jewel in [James's] crown." —Pittsburg-Post Gazette


 "No one is better than James at maintaining this tension between the cozy and the frightful." —The Washington Post


"[James is] a master. . . . Nothing is as it first appears." —The Boston Globe 

"[I]intricately plotted and suspenseful.... James' clear-eyed, often sardonic prose describes rooms and people exactly as she sees them." —Providence Journal

"Elegant . . . compelling. . . . Continues the James tradition. . . . She comfortably tackles timeless concerns." —Chicago Tribune

"The ghost of literature past haunts P.D. James' newest novel. . . . The novel's pointed descriptions, its gothic settings, and its theme exploring the insidious legacies of family and class violence suggest Charles Dickens may have rested a hand on James' shoulder while she wrote this terrific literary mystery." —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"James is a wonderful writer." —Chicago Sun-Times

"James is in excellent form. . . . [She] offers her readers intelligence, wisdom, dry humor, knowledge both deep and wide-ranging, humanity, compassion, understanding and a wonderful way with words. . . . James is one of Britain's greatest living writers." —St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Marilyn Stasio
The traditional comforts of the British country house mystery—puzzling plot, attractive setting, brainy detective, interesting characters—spill from P. D. James's latest novel, The Private Patient, like harvest bounty from a cornucopia.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

The latest (and perhaps final) mystery featuring Cmdr. Adam Dalgliesh of the Metropolitan Police Service finds him preparing to confront crucial turning points in his life and career. Meanwhile, he must solve the murder of a ruthlessly inquisitive investigative journalist who was killed in a private Dorset clinic just hours after a pre-eminent plastic surgeon removed her disfiguring facial scar. Dalgliesh and his team unearth a plethora of motives (and an ugly secret or three) as they investigate the inhabitants of the secluded manor that houses the clinic. Rosalyn Landor's lovely, well-bred tones add warmth, color and precision to this fully rounded, compassionately told mystery. She gives every character his or her own voice, clearly delineating gender, age and social class. Her voice combines with James's text to lend sympathy to each character, regardless of what sins he or she may have committed. In every way, this is a perfect auditory experience. A Knopf hardcover (Reviews, Sept. 22). (Nov.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

A new P.D. James novel feels as if a complex and lovely gift has been bestowed upon the reader. With this 14th novel featuring Adam Dalgliesh, there is a definite sense of closure. Investigative journalist Rhoda Gradwyn arrives at the beautiful Cheverell Manor in Dorset, owned by famous plastic surgeon George Chandler-Powell, to undergo a relatively routine surgical procedure to remove a facial scar and enjoy a private week of recovery. The next day, after a successful surgery, Rhoda is murdered in her room. Commander Dalgliesh and his usual team, Det. Inspector Kate Miskin and Sgt. Francis Benton-Smith, are summoned. As with any James novel, the manor's inhabitants are an insular, odd group requiring Dalgliesh to unravel a tangled mix of motivations in order to flush out the murderer. The end result is satisfying, if not bittersweet, for both Dalgliesh and the reader. Recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ7/08.]
—Andrea Y. Griffith

Kirkus Reviews

Lg. Prt.: 978-0-7393-2820-0

CD 978-0-7393-7691-1

James's 18th novel revisits familiar ground—an insular social setting disrupted by a shocking murder—with consummate artistry.

For 34 years Rhoda Gradwyn has carried the legacy of her father's abuse in the form of a disfiguring facial scar. Now a distinguished investigative journalist, she decides to have it removed because, as she tells Harley Street plastic surgeon George Chandler-Powell, "I no longer have need of it." The operation, performed in the surgeon's private clinic in Cheverell Manor, is successful, but it still proves fatal for Rhoda, who's strangled the following night. The murder scene, as usual in James (The Lighthouse, 2005, etc.), is thick with likely suspects and motives. Rhoda's friend Robin Boyton, who recommended the clinic, is convinced that his cousins, assistant surgeon Marcus Westhall and his sister Candace, cheated Robin out of his rightful inheritance. Helena Haverland, the clinic's general administrator, is still smarting over her family's loss of Cheverell Manor to Chandler-Powell. Head nurse Flavia Holland is maddened by spurned love. Kitchen helper Robin Bateman is hiding a dire secret. Nor does anyone seem to mourn a woman who made her living by exposing unsavory secrets. Commander Adam Dalgliesh, called away from a meeting with his prospective father-in-law, and his colleagues uncover a series of red herrings as ritualistically as Hercule Poirot, but with a great deal more psychological nuance, before the killer, who could be practically anyone, is finally unmasked.

Middling work for the peerless James, a whodunit as deeply shadowed by mortality as all Dalgliesh's cases ever since Shroudfor a Nightingale (1971).

First printing of 300,000. Book-of-the-Month Club and Mystery Guild main selections

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Adam Dalgliesh Series , #14
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.81(d)

Read an Excerpt

On November the twenty-first, the day of her forty-seventh birthday, and three weeks and two days before she was murdered, Rhoda Gradwyn went to Harley Street to keep a first appointment with her plastic surgeon, and there in a consulting room designed, so it appeared, to inspire confidence and allay apprehension, made the decision which would lead inexorably to her death. Later that day she was to lunch at The Ivy. The timing of the two appointments was fortuitous. Mr. Chandler-Powell had no earlier date to offer and the luncheon later with Robin Boyton, booked for twelve-forty-five, had been arranged two months previously; one did not expect to get a table at The Ivy on impulse. She regarded neither appointment as a birthday celebration. This detail of her private life, like much else, was never mentioned. She doubted whether Robin had discovered her date of birth or would much care if he had. She knew herself to be a respected, even distinguished journalist, but she hardly expected her name to appear in theTimes list of VIP birthdays.

She was due at Harley Street at eleven-fifteen. Usually with a London appointment she preferred to walk at least part of the way, but today she had ordered a taxi for ten-thirty. The journey from the City shouldn’t take three-quarters of an hour, but the London traffic was unpredictable. She was entering a world that was strange to her and had no wish to jeopardise her relationship with her surgeon by arriving late for this their first meeting.

Eight years ago she had taken a lease on a house in the City, part of a narrow terrace in a small courtyard at the end of Absolution Alley, near Cheapside, and knew as soon as she moved in that this was the part of London in which she would always choose to live. The lease was long and renewable; she would have liked to buy the house, but knew that it would never be for sale. But the fact that she couldn’t hope to call it entirely her own didn’t distress her. Most of it dated back to the seventeenth century. Many generations had lived in it, been born and died there, leaving behind nothing but their names on browning and archaic leases, and she was content to be in their company. Although the lower rooms with their mullioned windows were dark, those in her study and sitting room on the top storey were open to the sky, giving a view of the towers and steeples of the City and beyond. An iron staircase led from a narrow balcony on the third floor to a secluded roof, which held a row of terra-cotta pots and where on fine Sunday mornings she could sit with her book or newspapers as the Sabbath calm lengthened into midday and the early peace was broken only by the familiar peals of the City bells.

The City which lay below was a charnel house built on multilayered bones centuries older than those which lay beneath the cities of Hamburg or Dresden. Was this knowledge part of the mystery it held for her, a mystery felt most strongly on a bell-chimed Sunday on her solitary exploration of its hidden alleys and squares? Time had fascinated her from childhood, its apparent power to move at different speeds, the dissolution it wrought on minds and bodies, her sense that each moment, all moments past and those to come, were fused into an illusory present which with every breath became the unalterable, indestructible past. In the City of London these moments were caught and solidified in stone and brick, in churches and monuments and in bridges which spanned the grey-brown ever-flowing Thames. She would walk out in spring or summer as early as six o’clock, doublelocking the front door behind her, stepping into a silence more profound and mysterious than the absence of noise. Sometimes in this solitary perambulation it seemed that her own footsteps were muted, as if some part of her were afraid to waken the dead who had walked these streets and had known the same silence. She knew that on summer weekends, a few hundred yards away, the tourists and crowds would soon be pouring over the Millennium Bridge, the laden river steamers would move with majestic clumsiness from their berths, and the public city would become raucously alive.

But none of this business penetrated Sanctuary Court. The house she had chosen could not have been more different from that curttained, claustrophobic semi-detached suburban villa in Laburnum Grove, Silford Green, the East London suburb where she had been born and in which she had spent the first sixteen years of her life. Now she would take the first step on a path which might reconcile her to those years or, if reconciliation were impossible, at least rob them of their destructive power.

It was now eight-thirty and she was in her bathroom. Turning off the shower, she moved, towel-wrapped, to the mirror over the washbasin. She put out her hand and smoothed it over the steam-smeared glass and watched her face appear, pale and anonymous as a smudged painting. It was months since she had deliberately touched the scar. Now, slowly and delicately, she ran a fingertip down its length, feeling the silver shininess at its heart, the hard bumpy outline of its edge. Placing her left hand over her cheek, she tried to imagine the stranger who, in a few weeks’ time, would look into the same mirror and see a doppelgänger of herself, but one incomplete, unmarked, perhaps with only a thin white line to show where this puckered crevice had run. Gazing at the image, which seemed no more than a faint palimpsest of her former self, she began slowly and deliberately to demolish her carefully constructed defences and let the turbulent past, first like a swelling stream and then a river in spate, break through unresisted and take possession of her mind.


She was back in that small rear room, both kitchen and sitting room, in which she and her parents colluded in their lies and endured their voluntary exile from life. The front room, with its bay window, was for special occasions, for family celebrations never held and for visitors who never came, its silence smelling faintly of lavender furniture polish and stale air, an air so portentous that she tried never to breathe it. She was the only child of a frightened and ineffective mother and a drunken father. That was how she had defined herself for more than thirty years and how she still defined herself. Her childhood and adolescence had been circumscribed by shame and guilt. Her father’s periodic bouts of violence were unpredictable. No school friends could safely be brought home, no birthday or Christmas parties arranged and, since no invitations were ever given, none was received. The grammar school to which she went was single-sex and friendships between the girls were intense. A special mark of favour was to be invited to spend the night at a friend’s house. No guest ever slept at 239 Laburnum Grove. The isolation didn’t worry her. She knew herself to be more intelligent than her fellows and was able to persuade herself that she had no need of a companionship which would be intellectually unsatisfying and which she knew would never be offered.

It was eleven-thirty on a Friday, the night her father got paid, the worst day of the week. And now there came the sound she dreaded, the sharp closing of the front door. He came blundering in and she saw her mother move in front of the armchair, which Rhoda knew would awaken his fury. It was to be her father’s chair. He had chosen it and paid for it, and it had been delivered that morning. Only after the van had left had her mother discovered it was the wrong colour. It would have to be changed, but there had been no time before the shop closed. She knew that her mother’s querulous, apologetic, half-whining voice would enrage him, that her own sullen presence would help neither of them, but she couldn’t go up to bed. The noise of what would happen beneath her room would be more terrifying than to be part of it. And now the room was full of him, his blundering body, the stink of him. Hearing his bellow of outrage, his ranting, she felt a sudden spurt of fury, and with it came courage. She heard herself saying, “It isn’t Mother’s fault. The chair was wrapped up when the man left it. She couldn’t see it was the wrong colour. They’ll have to change it.”

And then he turned on her. She couldn’t recall the words. Perhaps at the time there had been no words, or she hadn’t heard them. There was only the crack of the smashed bottle, like a pistol shot, the stink of whisky, a moment of searing pain which passed almost as soon as she felt it and the warm blood flowing from her cheek, dripping onto the seat of the chair, her mother’s anguished cry. “Oh God, look what you’ve done, Rhoda. The blood! They’ll never take it back now. They’ll never change it.”

Her father gave her one look before stumbling out and hauling himself up to bed. In the seconds in which their eyes met, she thought she saw a confusion of emotions: bafflement, horror and disbelief. Then her mother finally turned her attention to her child. Rhoda had been trying to hold the edges of the wound together, the blood sticky on her hands. Her mother fetched towels and a packet of sticking plasters and tried with shaking hands to open it, her tears mixing with the blood. It was Rhoda who gently took the packet from her, unpeeled the plasters from their covers and managed at last to close most of the wound. By the time, less than an hour later, she was lying stiffly in bed, the bleeding had been staunched and the future mapped out. There would be no visit to the doctor and no truthful explanation ever; she would stay away from school for a day or two, her mother would telephone, saying she was unwell. And when she did go back, her story would be ready: she had crashed against the edge of the open kitchen door.

And now the sharp-edged memory of that single slashing moment softened into the more mundane recollection of the following years. The wound, which became badly infected, healed painfully and slowly, but neither parent spoke of it. Her father had always found it difficult to meet her eyes; now he hardly ever came near her. Her classmates averted their gaze, but it seemed to her that fear had replaced active dislike. No one at school ever mentioned the disfigurement in her presence until she was in the sixth form and was sitting with her English mistress, who was trying to persuade her to try for Cambridge—her own university—instead of London. Without looking up from her papers, Miss Farrell had said, “Your facial scar, Rhoda. It’s wonderful what plastic surgeons can do today. Perhaps it would be sensible to make an appointment with your GP before you go up.” Their eyes hadmet, Rhoda’s mutinous with outrage, and after four seconds of silence, Miss Farrell, cringing in her chair, her face an angry rash of mottled scarlet, had bent again to her papers. She began to be treated with wary respect. Neither dislike nor respect worried her. She had her own private life, an interest in findingout what others kept hidden, in making discoveries. Probing into other people’s secrets became a lifelong obsession, the substratum and directionof her whole career. She became a stalker of minds. Eighteen years after she had left Silford Green, the suburb had been enthralledby a notorious murder. She had studied the grainy pictures of victim and killer in the papers with no particular interest. The killer confessed within days, was taken away, the case closed. As an investigative journalist, by now becoming increasingly successful, she was interested less by Silford Green’s brief notoriety than by her own more subtle and more lucrative and fascinating lines of enquiry.

She had left home on her sixteenth birthday and found a bed-sit in the next suburb. Every week until he died her father sent her a fivepound note. She never acknowledged it but took the money because she needed it to supplement the cash she earned in the evenings and at weekends working as a waitress, telling herself that it was probably less than her food would have cost at home. When, five years later, with a first in history and established in her first job, her mother phoned to say that her father had died, she felt an absence of emotion that paradoxically seemed stronger and more irksome than regret. He had been found drowned, slumped in an Essex stream whose name she could never remember, with an alcohol level in his blood which proved that he had been intoxicated. The coroner’s verdict of accidental death was expected and, she thought, probably correct. It was the one she had hoped for. She told herself, not without a small flicker of shame which quickly died, that suicide would have been too rational and momentousa final judgement on such an ineffectual life.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

P. D. James is the author of twenty books, many of which feature her detective hero Adam Dalgliesh and have been televised or filmed. She was the recipient of many honors, including the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award and the National Arts Club Medal of Honor for Literature, and in 1991 was created Baroness James of Holland Park. She died in 2014.

Brief Biography

London, England
Date of Birth:
August 3, 1920
Place of Birth:
Oxford, England
Attended the Cambridge High School for Girls from 1931 to 1937 and later took evening classes in hospital administration

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

The Private Patient (Adam Dalgliesh Series #14) 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 107 reviews.
Nutmeg-Anne More than 1 year ago
Beyond the well developed characters and the interesting plot line of this book, P.D. James is a truly talented writer and a joy to read. The book was mentally comfortable from page one to completion and I, personally, intend to begin a collection of her writings. I'm sorry it's taken so long for us to become acquainted. The "Private Patient" had its delightful share of twists and turns, but none so outrageous that the story didn't have a natural flow that allowed me to personally assist Commander Adam Dalgliesh throughout his investigation. Once begun...I found it difficult to put this down...and found myself rushing to complete my daily chores so I could rejoin the investigation.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The characters are not fully developed as individuals rather than types, but the plot holds interest. The story is original within the genre but still within the Agatha Christie "closed House and limited suspects" where all the characters might have a motive. I always enjoy reading about Adam Dalgliesh and would like more details about him.
katknit More than 1 year ago
If The Private Patient is truly PDJ's final Dalgliesh novel, she's taking him out in style! AD has always been the most human, humane, and cultured of the detective genre, and at long last, he's gained some well deserved happiness. Although most of his cases have been firmly closed at the end of each story, in this one, James has left some wiggle room. This is a fine police procedural/human interest story, as beautifully written and atmospheric as we've come to expect from her. Five stars for yet another thoroughly enjoyed little masterpiece.
lilySW More than 1 year ago
I re-discovered PD James with this novel. Had read 1 of her novels years ago & remembered I had enjoyed it. All characters are well developed & the "mystery" involved always holds your attention. Her central character, Detective Adam Dalgliesh, is superb. Went out & bought 2 more books from this series. Also feel her use of language is part of the overall appeal of her books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading this book. Although I have liked all of the previous Dalgliesh books, I've always felt that AD and his associates could stand a few doses of Prozac. While the regular cast was introspective, they didn't seem to be suffering from depression this time. The story was compelling and held my attention. As an American, it was an interesting insight into medical practice in the UK. Good ending either as a series finale or to take advantage of that wiggle room James left for a future novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love P.D James. I love the way she transforms mystery into a literary experience, but having said that, this latest book is not her best. It is still a wonderful read, but the plot is not as compelling as her other books. I found that I quickly forgot the book after reading it.
RJ951 More than 1 year ago
Typical PD James style and substance. Similar to The Lighthouse in feel and overall a good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fan of james for many years but i found the read to be a very slow go
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It kept my interest from the beginning and led me to a conclusion unexpected. I would recommend it to anyone who likes a good story, not just mystery lovers.
happygranma More than 1 year ago
I have been reading her novels for 30 years. This one is just as wonderful as all the others. She's a great writer. I recommend this book highly. And I recommend readers start a the beginning of her body of work and read through it in entirety. She's nearing the end of her career. She will be missed.
jrf2read More than 1 year ago
As with another British writer, John le Carre, readers must be patient and let the story come to them. Her descriptions not only set the stage but give readers a glimpse into life in another country. How things are done or in some cases simply NOT done. Commander Dalgliesh is his normal brilliant self and is moving into another phase of his life. This is a very satisfying read...just sit back and enjoy settings, characters and mystery.
emmi331 More than 1 year ago
I was sorry that some reviewers had trouble with the wordiness of the book, but this is characteristic of the author. If you're looking for a cozy village mystery to be finished in an afternoon, her books are not for you! This novel, like her others, unfolds slowly, with plenty of character development and setting detail. I gave this four stars instead of five only because I found the resolution of the mystery a bit murky. But the journey through the book was still worth the read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
PD James remains in fine form in this murder mystery. As usual, in her books the interior life is every bit as important as the exterior one and while I did not find the "who done it" too much of a challenge, I appreciated the leisurely pace of the book. (I only wish she had turned more of an eye to countryside descriptions of the beautiful Dorset area)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What can be a better setting for a murder mystery than a secluded old house and a limited number of characters with motive and access to the victim? Unfortunately, setting isn't everything. PD James characters are usually well crafted and the plots intricate. However, this story was sidelined, as have been several of her recent books, by references to the Dalgliesh-Emma romance. Enough already. The romance seems contrived and superficial and slows down the pace of the plot.
GailCooke More than 1 year ago
London born actress Rosalyn Landor is the perfect choice to read a P. D. James mystery. The daughter of an actor/broadcaster Landor grew up with reading aloud, story telling, and that love for the spoken word is reflected in her voice performances. Her readings are well modulated, precise as she carries listeners along to what is in this case a surprising denouement.

What lover of mysteries has not read or at least heard of P.D. James? The author of 19 books she spent some 30 years in the British Civil Service and recently celebrated her 88th birthday. One of her many gifts to readers is the creation of Commander Adam Dalgliesh, a consummate investigator who is often given to Holmesian discussions as he presents his thoughts to various characters and suspects.

With The Private Patient we visit an impressive old house, Cheverell Manor in Dorset. Once a family home it was sold of necessity to an eminent plastic surgeon, George H. Chandler-Powell, who now operates it as a clinic for the privileged. Rhoda Gradwyn comes to him for the removal of a disfiguring facial scar. She's an investigative journalist (her work is similar to that of a reporter for a supermarket tabloid in the USA). She's with us only briefly as she's soon dead of strangulation, a murder committed by an unknown person wearing latex gloves.

While the crime most definitely has affected Rhoda, it also affects the good doctor as who would want to come to a clinic where a murder has just occurred? Commander Dalgliesh is summoned to investigate. He has a great deal to look into considering the clinic staff, the departed's boyfriend, and others who were a part of her life for good or ill.

Once again James treats us to her vivid descriptions of setting and extensive vocabulary - the perfect word for every thought and situation. A pleasure to read - do so slowly and savor this author's unique style.

- Gail Cooke
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good setting of the stage by the author especially with respect to her character descriptions
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Because it is also has the most humor! For p j james that is. Very few mystery writers can add humor into a mystery unless it is with a standard secondary cast member. Crispen can be very funny and often the humor is from an animal
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
P.d. james is my new agatha christie
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have always enjoyed books by this author. I thought this was a good read. Fans will not be diappointed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago