Wednesday, July 1, 2009

An Unsuitable Job For A Woman

Book: An Unsuitable Job For A Woman
Author: PD James
Edition: 1972, Paperback
Read: June 2009
297 pages
Rated: 3 out of 5

James introduces us to a new private detective, Cordelia Gray. Her senior, male partner has committed suicide. A renowned scientist son has died under mysterious circumstances, investigators say suicide, but the father wants a further explanation. Particularly, why did he committed suicide. He commissions this 22 year old, inexperienced Cordelia Gray to look into the matter. On this, James goes through the usual questionable people close to the situation and figures out what happened in this death. Of course, Cordelia Gray does a chase scene, as well as gets attacked. There is the usual surprise ending.

James wrote this book in 1972, when the feminist movement was starting to make ripples. From the titlte through about the first third of the book, the influence of that movement is evident. In today’s environment, this kind of writing is passé. I suppose if I had read this book 30 years ago, I would have a different reaction. So one gets the impression that the book is a bit dated in its approach. In places the influence gets in the way of the book. But being a good author, she does settle down to write a decent book.

The other issue with the book is that James cannot figure out if this is an Adam Dalgliesh book or not. The protagonist’s dead partner’s ex-boss had been Dalgliesh . Also Dalgliesh ends up in interrogating the protagonist at the end of the book. This leaves the book being neither free of Dalgliesh to form its own character or to fit into the Dalgliesh mode. There is one gratitutice chapter where he is a major character. [Note: There is a second book with the Cordelia Gray character—The Skull Under The Skin.]

What makes James interesting is the wider perspective she brings to a story—not just, who dun it. Starting in chapter four, she brings in the underlying thought, what does evil look like? A respectable scientist, not notable for being mad, but involved with good things such as environmental impact, does things which are detestable actions. Is that what evil looks like? James finds evil in two ways, when we justify our actions by what we are trying to accomplish and when we disfigure another being. The former she does not dwell on too much, except at the end where you understand why the scientist did what he did.

But the evil James talks about here goes beyond bad manners, disagreeable people or even sin. This includes “serious” sins such as theft, adultery or even murder. What James found in this mystery was when you disfigure another person’s image. This can be a degradement of the person to even changing the person’s appearance. This changing of appearances, degradement of another, this is the work of Satan—not specified by James. This is similar to Satan appearing before God in Job, degrading Job and dragging him through the mud. Murder and theft robs us; James shows where evil comes to us in the form of dehumanization. While James does not say this, I suspect where this really comes from is since each human is made in God’s image, when we tear apart another human, we really are trying to deface God.

Also James frames an interesting question, if we destroy people in the name of good, how can we say we are trying to make the world better? This gets to the root—when our goal destroys others, we have lost our way and our project has gone astray.

On the whole, this mystery is a pleasant read, but not a must read. You can spend a good afternoon going through the book, enjoying yourself.

Good Quotes:- Rudeness should always be intentional, otherwise, it’s insensitivity. (pg 111)
- It doesn’t matter what we feel. Actions are important, feelings aren’t. (pg 113)
- Perhaps it’s only when people are dead that we can safely show how much we cared about them. We know that it’s too late then for them to do anything about it. (pg 191)
- What is the use of making the world more beautiful if the people who live in it can’t love one another? (pg 226)
- The secret of contentment is never to allow yourself to want anything which reason tells you you haven’t a chance of getting. (pg 254)

References:- Wikipedia on Cordelia Gray: Wikipedia on An Unsuitable Job for a Woman:
- Overview of the Cordelia Gray character: PBS Mystery:
- Amazon:

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