An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (Cordelia Gray Series #1)

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Overview

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman introduces bestselling mystery author P.D. James’s courageous but vulnerable young detective, Cordelia Gray, in a “top-rated puzzle of peril that holds you all the way” (The New York Times).

Handsome Cambridge dropout Mark Callender died hanging by the neck with a faint trace of lipstick on his mouth. When the official verdict is suicide, his wealthy father hires fledgling private investigator Cordelia Gray to find out what led him to ...

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An Unsuitable Job for a Woman

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Overview

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman introduces bestselling mystery author P.D. James’s courageous but vulnerable young detective, Cordelia Gray, in a “top-rated puzzle of peril that holds you all the way” (The New York Times).

Handsome Cambridge dropout Mark Callender died hanging by the neck with a faint trace of lipstick on his mouth. When the official verdict is suicide, his wealthy father hires fledgling private investigator Cordelia Gray to find out what led him to self-destruction. What she discovers instead is a twisting trail of secrets and sins, and the strong scent of murder.

Handsome Mark Callender did not die the way a well-brought-up gentleman should. He is found hanging by his neck, a lipstick stain on his mouth and a picture of a nude girl nearby. The official verdict is suicide, but his aristocratic father suspects murder, and hires fledgling detective Cordelia Gray to investigate. As this determined young lady follows a twisting trail of guilty secrets and shameful sins, she soon reaches the conclusion that the nicest people can do the nastiest things -- in a case that proves at every shocking turn to be "An Unsuitable Job for a Woman."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
People [P.D. James is] the greatest living mystery writer.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743219556
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Publication date: 4/28/2001
  • Series: Cordelia Gray Series , #1
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 137,797
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

P. D. James

P.D. James is the author of twenty previous books, most of which have been filmed and broadcast on television in the United States and other countries. She spent thirty years in various departments of the British Civil Service, including the Police and Criminal Law Departments of Great Britain's Home Office. She has served as a magistrate and as a governor of the BBC. In 2000 she celebrated her eightieth birthday and published her autobiography, Time to Be in Earnest. The recipient of many prizes and honors, she was created Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991 and was inducted into the International Crime Writing Hall of Fame in 2008. She lives in London and Oxford.

Biography

Few writers have left so indelible an impression on crime fiction as P. D. (Phyllis Dorothy) James, an author whose elegant, bestselling novels have found an appreciative audience among readers and critics alike. James's intricately plotted books are filled with macabre events and shocking twists and turns, yet they are so beautifully written and morally complex that they cannot be dismissed as mere murder mysteries...although, in James's view, there's nothing "mere" about mysteries!

In James's native Britain (home of Wilkie Collins, Graham Greene, and the redoubtable Agatha Christie), the mystery is a time-honored form that has never been considered inferior. James explained her feelings in a 1998 interview with Salon.com: "It isn't easy to make this division and say: That's genre fiction and it's useless, and this is the so-called straight novel and we take it seriously. Novels are either good novels or they're not good novels, and that is the dividing line for me."

Although she always wanted to be a novelist, James came to writing relatively late in life. Her formal schooling ended at 16, when she went to work to help out her cash-strapped parents. In 1941 she married a doctor assigned to the Royal Army Medical Corps. He returned from WWII with a severe mental illness that lasted until his death in 1964, necessitating that James become the family breadwinner. She worked in hospital administration and then in various departments of the British Civil Service until her retirement in 1979. (Her experience navigating the labyrinthine corridors of government bureaucracies has provided a believable backdrop for many of her books.)

James's first novel, Cover Her Face, was published in 1962. An immediate success, it introduced the first of her two longtime series protagonists -- Adam Dalgleish, a police inspector in Scotland Yard and a published poet. Her second recurring character, a young private detective named Cordelia Gray, debuted in 1972's An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. Both Dalgliesh and Cordelia went on to star in a string of international bestsellers.

James has only occasionally departed from her series, most notably for the standalone mystery Innocent Blood (1980) and the dystopian sci-fi classic Children of Men (1992), which was turned into an Oscar-nominated film. In 2000, she published a slender "fragment of autobiography" called A Time to Be Earnest, described by The New York Time Book Review as " deeply moving, and all too short."

Good To Know

  • In television mini-series that have aired in the U.S. on PBS, British actors Roy Marsden and Martin Shaw have portrayed Adam Dalgliesh and Helen Baxendale has starred as Cordelia Gray.

  • James explained the essence of a murder mystery in a 2004 essay for Britain's Guardian: "E. M. Forster has written, 'The king died and then the queen died is a story. The king died and the queen died of grief is a plot. The queen died and no one knew why until they discovered it was of grief is a mystery, a form capable of high development.' To that I would add: the queen died and everyone thought it was of grief until they discovered the puncture wound in her throat. That is a murder mystery and, in my view, it too is capable of high development. "

  • In 1983, James was awarded the OBE. In 1991 she was made a Life Peer (Baroness James of Holland Park).

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      1. Also Known As:
        Phyllis Dorothy James White (full name)
      2. Hometown:
        London, England
      1. Date of Birth:
        August 3, 1920
      2. Place of Birth:
        Oxford, England
      1. Education:
        Attended the Cambridge High School for Girls from 1931 to 1937 and later took evening classes in hospital administration

    Read an Excerpt

    1

    On the morning of Bernie Pryde’s death – or it may have been the morning after, since Bernie died at his own convenience, nor did he think the estimated time of his departure worth recording – Cordelia was caught in a breakdown of the Bakerloo Line outside Lambeth North and was half an hour late at the office. She came up from Oxford Circus underground into the bright June sunshine, sped past the early morning shoppers scanning the windows of Dickins and Jones and plunged into the cacophony of Kingly Street, threading her way between the blocked pavement and the shining mass of cars and vans which packed the narrow street. The hurry she knew was irrational, a symptom of her obsession with order and punctuality. There were no appointments booked; no clients to be interviewed; no case outstanding; not even a final report to be written. She and Miss Sparshott, the temporary typist, at Cordelia’s suggestion were circulating information about the Agency to all the London solicitors in the hope of attracting custom; Miss Sparshott would probably be busy with it now, eyes straying to her watch, tapping out her staccato irritation at every minute of Cordelia’s lateness. She was an unprepossessing woman with lips permanently taut as if to prevent the protruding teeth from springing from her mouth, a receding chin with one coarse hair which grew as quickly as it was plucked, and fair hair set in stiff corrugated waves. That chin and mouth seemed to Cordelia the living refutation that all men are born equal and she tried from time to time to like and sympathize with Miss Sparshott, with a life lived in bedsitting rooms, measured in the five-penny pieces fed to the gas stove and circumscribed by fell seams and hand hemming. For Miss Sparshott was a skilled dressmaker, an assiduous attender at the G.L.C. evening classes. Her clothes were beautifully made but so dateless that they were never actually in fashion; straight skirts in grey or black which were exercises in how to sew a pleat or insert a zip fastener; blouses with mannish collars and cuffs in insipid pastel shades on which she distributed without discretion her collection of costume jewellery; intricately cut dresses with hems at the precise length to emphasize her shapeless legs and thick ankles.

    Cordelia had no premonition of tragedy as she pushed open the street door which was kept perpetually on the latch for the convenience of the secretive and mysterious tenants and their equally mysterious visitors. The new bronze plaque to the left of the door gleamed brightly in the sun in incongruous contrast to the faded and dirt-encrusted paint. Cordelia gave it a short glance of approval.

    Pryde’s Detective Agency
    (Props: Bernard G. Pryde Cordelia Gray)

    It had taken Cordelia some weeks of patient and tactful persuasion to convince Bernie that it would be inappropriate to append the words “ex-C.I.D. Metropolitan Police” to his name or prefix “Miss” to hers. There had been no other problem over the plaque since Cordelia had brought no qualifications or relevant past experience to the partnership and indeed no capital, except her slight but tough twenty-two-year-old body, a considerable intelligence which Bernie, she suspected, had occasionally found more disconcerting than admirable, and a half exasperated, half pitying affection for Bernie himself. It was obvious very early to Cordelia that in some undramatic but positive way life had turned against him. She recognized the signs. Bernie never got the enviable front left hand seat in the bus; he couldn’t admire the view from the train window without another train promptly obscuring it; the bread he dropped invariably fell buttered side downwards; the Mini, reliable enough when she drove it, stalled for Bernie at the busiest and most inconvenient intersections. She sometimes wondered whether, in accepting his offer of a partnership in a fit of depression or of perverse masochism, she was voluntarily embracing his ill-luck. She certainly never saw herself as powerful enough to change it.

    The staircase smelt as always of stale sweat, furniture polish and disinfectant. The walls were dark green and were invariably damp whatever the season as if they secreted a miasma of ­desperate respectability and defeat. The stairs, with their ornate wrought-iron balustrade, were covered with split and stained linoleum patched by the landlord in various and contrasting colours only when a tenant complained. The Agency was on the third floor. There was no clatter of ­typewriter keys as Cordelia entered and she saw that Miss Sparshott was engaged in cleaning her machine, an ancient Imperial which was a constant cause of justified complaint. She looked up, her face blotched with resentment, her back as rigid as the space bar.

    “I’ve been wondering when you would turn up, Miss Gray. I’m concerned about Mr. Pryde. I think he must be in the inner office but he’s quiet, very quiet, and the door’s locked.”

    Cordelia, chill at heart, wrenched at the door handle:

    “Why didn’t you do something?”

    “Do what, Miss Gray? I knocked at the door and called out to him. It wasn’t my place to do that, I’m only the temporary typist, I’ve no authority here. I should have been placed in a very embar­rassing position if he had answered. After all, he’s entitled to use his own office I suppose. Besides, I’m not even sure if he’s there.”

    “He must be. The door’s locked and his hat is here.”

    Bernie’s trilby, the stained brim turned up all round, a comedian’s hat, was hanging on the convoluted hatstand, a symbol of forlorn decrepitude. Cordelia was fumbling in her shoulder bag for her own key. As usual, the object most required had fallen to the bottom of the bag. Miss Sparshott began to clatter on the keys as if to disassociate herself from impending trauma. Above the noise she said defensively:

    “There’s a note on your desk.”

    Cordelia tore it open. It was short and explicit. Bernie had always been able to express himself succinctly when he had something to say:

    “I’m sorry, partner, they’ve told me it’s cancer and I’m taking the easy way out. I’ve seen what the treatment does to people and I’m not having any. I’ve made my will and it’s with my solicitor. You’ll find his name in the desk. I’ve left the business to you. Everything, including all the equipment. Good luck and thank you.” Underneath with the inconsiderateness of the doomed he had scribbled a final unfair plea:

    “If you find me alive, for God’s sake wait before calling help. I rely on you for this, partner. Bernie.”

    She unlocked the door of the inner office and went inside, closing the door carefully behind her.

    From the Paperback edition.

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    Table of Contents

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    Customer Reviews

    Average Rating 4
    ( 9 )
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    Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
    • Anonymous

      Posted February 29, 2004

      Excellent stuff as usual

      The prose is racy and the language, though replete with dictionary inspired words does not impede the speed with which one reads the novel. The story is about a girl-detective who solves the mystery of a suicide committed by a young man. James¿ usage of words is what is very inspiring rather than the somewhat morbid and unbelievable end. Should be read not only for the mystery but also for the vivid description of surroundings brought forth with lucid rapidity and astounding image inducing clarity. While reading Agatha one tries to reach the end quickly here you can savor upon the prose at leisure and chew upon the mystery as each page, each passage is interesting. That¿s what is riveting about the book. I think it will also make a nice film ¿ the Hallmark movie type that is!

      3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted March 8, 2013

      more from this reviewer

      This is the first PD James¿ novel I've read and therefore I'm un

      This is the first PD James’ novel I've read and therefore I'm unable to compare it to her other books. Although written in the 70s, tech apart, it didn't come across as dated. In some ways it reminded me of the first of the Millennium Trilogy. Both novels feature a family member who, dissatisfied with a police investigation, instruct someone outside the police to reopen the case, only to open a can of worms instead with all that entails.
      The narrative structure was very easy to follow and I knew where and with whom I was the majority of the time. Being constantly privy to Cordelia Grey's innermost thoughts, gave the story immediacy. The frequent mention (and eventual appearance) of Adam Dalgleish served as a nice steppingstone between the protagonist of this novel, and the author’s most famous literary creation.
      Was this the best PD James to start with? I don't know, but I think it a shame only two novels feature Cordelia Grey. Maybe Mrs James should bring her back to life, but now a sixty-something private detective, still plying her trade?

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted November 21, 2013

      Suggest blurb give a hint that this

      Was a new character for those who hadnt read the h c then they can read the second one

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    • Posted July 22, 2013

      Wonderful mystery and characters

      Love anything PD James writes. She is right up there with Agatha Christie. Her characters are full and complete. The mystery is always a great "who dun it" Read anything she writes, if you are a mystery reader you will never be disappointed.

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    • Posted March 4, 2012

      A good read. Wish the other in the series was on ebook.

      PD Jmes was recommended. I read Elizabeth George,Grafton. This was enjoyable.

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      Posted December 16, 2008

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      Posted October 27, 2008

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      Posted February 18, 2009

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