For The Someday Book

Book Review: An Unsuitable Job for a Woman

Posted on: July 31, 2010

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, by P.D. James, Simon & Schuster, 1977, 250 pp.

I decided to take a risk and try a mystery novel. I have so many friends who love mysteries as a genre, and sing the praises of P.D. James as the best in the business. I wanted something easy and fun and forgettable. It was all of those things, but nothing more. And a lot more easy and forgettable than it was fun.

This is the first of the Cordelia Gray series, which I figured would be a good place to start in case I got hooked and wanted to tear through the whole series. Perhaps that made it a bit more rocky, since the main character needed a lot of set-up and back story. In this story, she is on her first case as a private eye, hired by a rich scientist to discover why his 21-year-old son hung himself. The story had its twists and turns, but I thought the “whodunit” aspects of it were fairly predictable.

I decided that I like to read for characters and ideas and pathos, not for plot twists and turns. The mystery did not work for me because I did not care enough about the characters. A mystery novel works on cleverness, both of the plot and of the detective solving the case. For me, the cleverness did not carry me through with enough passion to care if the victim was this character or that one, if the culprit was this character or that one.

Mystery lovers: what am I missing? Correct me, cajole me, console me. Why do you love this so much?

Time to move decidedly back to the territory of my preferred genres for awhile. I don’t have any plans to seek out the next Cordelia Gray story anytime soon.

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1 Response to "Book Review: An Unsuitable Job for a Woman"

I haven’t read P.D. James, but I do love mystery novels for pleasure reading. I study Medieval/Renaissance Lit. I started reading them because Madeleine L’Engle wrote about them. Based on her writings, I started with Josephine Tey (Inspector Alan Grant) and Dorothy Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey). I wouldn’t recommend them to everyone, but I think they do a little more than merely set up a puzzle to solve. They at least consider some of the “Big Questions.”

My favorite contemporary mystery writer is Margaret Maron who is a character-based writer (New York police woman Sigrid Harald, Southern Judge Deborah Knott). I have found, though, with contemporary mysteries, that the longer a series goes on, the less interesting it remains. It takes a truly skillful writer to keep a character growing and changing.

I also really enjoy procedurals on TV, especially the ones that dig a little into character (Bones, Numb3rs, Castle), so I just like the format. I wouldn’t think everyone should like mysteries. I think their appeal is a little limited.

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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