Cover Her Face – P.D. James

One of the crime authors I was going to ask your advice about yesterday was the author P.D. James. That was until I realised that actually I had one of her novels, indeed her debut in fact, ‘Cover Her Face’ in the TBR and so feeling the need for some crime I decided that would be my next port of call. I didn’t really know what to expect, but from the cover I was guessing a more modern version of an Agatha Christie manor house murder mystery, and in some ways that is what I got and in others it wasn’t.

Reading the blurb of ‘Cover Her Face’ you would think that this was simply the mystery of Sally Judd’s murder after the church fate in the fictional Essex village of Chadfleet. Yet what we get is not simply a sudden murder and then a backtracking of story lines through flash backs and interviews with subjects, P.D. James lets you get to know the victims and the suspects first giving little titbits of information and possible motives as she goes.

I don’t want to give too much information away but basically Sally Judd, who is a new parlour maid at Martingale House (the manor of the village, isn’t really liked by anyone and to be honest doesn’t seem to care or indeed hide the fact. She’s talk of the village before she has completed a day’s work because she is shockingly an unmarried mother and also because she seems mysterious, no one ever quite knows too much about her past even Miss Alice Liddell, the Warden at St Mary’s Refuge for Girls who recommends her to the Maxie family when they are hiring new help. With so much dislike of her from those both upstairs and downstairs in the house, along with the fact her past seems to be shrouded in mystery Detective Chief Inspector Adam Dalgliesh has quite the job ahead of him in working out who did it.  

“She seemed in some ways a natural murderee. What did astound me was the news that she was an unmarried mother. She struck me as too careful, too scheming for that kind of trouble.”

I am of course going to give nothing away, rather like P.D. James who leaves lost of hints (many red herrings) along the way but doesn’t let the murder show their true colours until the very last minute. I have to say I had gone of on a completely wild goose chaise over a dress choice someone made and night caps. I don’t think that gives anything away though to those of you who haven’t read this yet, and indeed I would advise you to read it. It’s by no means the perfect murder mystery, I wasn’t as chilled as I wanted to be but that’s more me than the book itself which has its darker moments. Is it wrong of me to say I would have liked another murder or two? One just didn’t seem quite enough.

It’s an incredibly accomplished debut novel (though, and this is a minor issue, I could have done with some more paragraph breaks) which manages to mingle some police procedural, the observations of people and village life, some amateur sleuthing, some great characters and some brilliant lines like ‘Mrs Maxie smiled faintly. For the second time the delicate claw was unsheathed.’ It hasn’t bowled me over as it might have done on its release in the 1960’s, though I wasn’t born, but its definitely made me want to try more James as her passion for murder – if that’s how I can put it – does come of the page and makes it more of a meaty manor house murder than you might expect. 7.5/10

This is a book Faber sent me a while ago when they released their lovely Faber Firsts editions.

I get the feeling I would like P.D. James if I met her. I have heard her lots on the radio and her intelligence there is in the pages of her books so I will be reading more. She has a huge following and is now one of the current crime greats so I am hoping you will tell me where to turn next, I am thinking that a stand alone novel might be good before I get hooked in the Dalgliesh series. What do you think?

12 Comments

Filed under Faber & Faber, P.D. James, Review

12 responses to “Cover Her Face – P.D. James

  1. I’ve read lots of PDJ but I’m not sure I’ve read this one. I like her Dalgleish novels better than any stand-alone ones I’ve read, but I haven’t read many of those — not sure even if there are many.

    • This one is the first in the Dalgleish series… yet he wasnt in it very much really. I dont think she thought it was going to be a successful series though.

      I am quite excited as P.D. James is going to be one of the people who is talking at the ‘as yet unnamed’ festival I am talking at in June so am determined to say hello.

  2. There is Children of Men..not read it, heard mixed views about it. The Dalgleish novels are her strength …I’ve read them all and there isn’t a dud among them

  3. Bet

    I prefer PD James earlier novels. Some of her more recent ones give me that feeling of “so what?” I’m not sure how to describe that, just that the situations aren’t particularly suspenseful and I don’t care whodunnit. My favorite PD James is Innocent Blood. You know early on who’s gonna do it and why… but waiting for it to happen is soooooooo suspenseful! And it’s a “stand alone” though I think Dalgliesh is the detective who shows up at the end.

  4. The Dalgliesh series gets better and better as it progresses. Although, by my calculation, he must have passed retirement age years ago!

  5. I’ve read many of her earlier works and I think she is an excellent writer of this genre of fiction. My two favourites are “Devices & Desires” and “A Taste for Death”.

  6. Jon Appleton

    Absolutely INNOCENT BLOOD is the next one to read. It’s the greatest British crime novel ever written. It’s brilliant – really chilling from start to finish.

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