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VINE VOICEon 23 July 2009
Simply put - this an excellent audio CD of the PD James murder mystery "The Private Patient." The careful build up of the story and characters is expertly crafted by the author. Michael Jayston deserves special praise for his brilliant narration. Sit back, relax, and listen. You will not be disappointed. Recommended.
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on 8 March 2009
This is brilliantly read. Michael Jayston is the perfect reader, suggesting different voices, accents, gender, without caricature.
The plot is good old fashioned detective fiction: complicated, not entirely realistic, but not too far-fetched either.
My only reservation is, surprisingly, the writing - there is too much detail, too much spelling out of thoughts which in her earlier novels PD James expected her readers to infer.
Nonetheless, good entertainment. Perfect while you're cooking, ironing or just being lazy.
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on 15 June 2010
I have to say when I ordered this online in audio format it was for a friend. The cover intrigued me so much - I'm into stone circles and standing stones - that I had to go out and get a copy in paperback for myself. I'd yearned for it for some time but finally purchased it.

WOW! That's all I can say. PD James you've done yourself proud with this one. The location descriptions made me feel like I was there. Lots of suspense built in to keep me wondering until the who-dunnit was solved.

I've not read a lot by this author but after having read this novel, I'll be reading her entire collection!
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I loved the early PD James but haven't read the last 3-4 books as it seemed to me that she had lost her way slightly. The Private Patient in lots of ways is a return to the classic detective story: the closed atmosphere of the private clinic, the delving into the personalities and back-stories of the suspects, and the final twisting denouement.

I won't repeat the plot as other reviewers have already done that, but this treads a fine line between the predictable and the enticing. Perhaps precisely because I've had a long break from James, I enjoyed this immensely. Dalgleish seems much softer and more nuanced than in some of the earlier books and his team is an interesting one.

There are some moments that don't quite work (why is Dalgleish's team called in? This doesn't seem to be a politically sensitive case?) and some threads are started and then not followed up. The final solution also seemed to me to be a tad unsatisfactory in personality terms, and some of the characters are very cliched. James' own social background was more prominent here than I've noticed before: so many people appear to be academics with a Classics background and more people are at home with Latin tags than I suspect is the case in 'real' life.

However, all that doesn't detract at all from a compelling story, well told. So overall this doesn't stretch the detective fiction genre in any way at all - and why should it? - but what it does, it does very well indeed.
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If you love PD James you already know what to expect: the English countryside at its most mysterious and threatening; descriptions of London and its twistings and turnings; a strange, dysfunctional group of suspects bound together by professional ties, rivalries, jealousies and secrets; and most of all an intricately-constructed plot.

There's all of that on offer in this book. P.D.James is Britain's Great Grandma of Crime, and despite now being 88 has just turned out a new novel featuring the restrained and intellectual detective Adam Dalgleish. Dorset is the setting, amongst sinister standing stones that feature on the cover: it is midwinter and the trees are bare. Just the moment for a violent death in a private plastic surgery clinic. The murder victim is an investigative journalist, strangled after having a mysterious scar removed - whose secrets has she disturbed?

P.D. James likes to focus on institutions, like the forensics clinic of "Death of an Expert Witness" or Peverell Pres, the gothic publishing house that featured in "Original Sin". The upmarket cosmetic surgery clinic in this book is another such creation, with lots of secrets under the surface. There's lots about Miskin, who I really like, and more development of Dalgleish's relationship with Emma. I don't want to give away any plot details in a review, so please forgive me for being sketchy about the book's actual events, but let me just say the book wraps up very neatly. And ends on a good note...

This is a proper old-fashioned English detective story where the picture is slowly pieced together through a kind of fugal repetition of themes, including a returning image of time that unites the novel. It has James's distinctive signature style: precise description of rooms and things seen, careful enumeration of conversations, and hanging over it all a sort of brooding sense of life's darkness.

Though she can never restrain herself from having the obligatory pop at the Labour government (a total of 4 by page 85, but she's a Tory peer so it's not that surprising), the book is a real treat. If you are looking for the flash bang wallop of Kathy Reichs or Patricia Cornwell, look elsewhere. More for devotees of Wallander or Martin Beck, then, than Karin Slaughter.

I love PD James and I think this is a very good one. Quiet, restrained, marvellous.
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VINE VOICEon 10 May 2009
P.D. James is 88, and if the thought of churning out 400-page novels at that age impresses you, spare a thought for her detective, Adam Dalgliesh, who's been wrestling culprits to the floor since 1962. I can only assume he's been drinking the same elixir as James Bond, and gets younger and more muscular with each new case.

The setting for The Private Patient is, naturally, a decaying outpost of provincial privilege with a spooky and claustrophobic atmosphere. Rhoda Gradwyn, a fearless investigative journalist with a fair tally of accumulated enemies, books in to the private Dorset clinic of her plastic surgeon, George Chandler-Powell. The purpose of the visit: the removal of a deep scar across Gradwyn's cheek, inflicted during childhood. The operation is completed successfully. But the following night, bandages still wrapped round her face, Rhoda is strangled in her bed.

Helpfully enough, the clinic, a beautiful yet intimidating Tudor manor house, is an enclosed space chock full of suspects. Two of the staff have longstanding grudges against Gradwyn, another has a dark past that has caused her to assume a new identity, one of Rhoda's friends stands to gain from her will, and Chandler-Powell's two medical assistants both have reasons for wanting to ruin the surgeon's reputation. So whodunnit? And what is the significance of the ancient stone circle outside the manor, where a witch was once burned, and where strange lights were seen on the night of the murder?

The Private Patient is a novel resolute in its conformity to the conventions and clichés of its genre, but it's a class act nonetheless -- the work of a novelist rightly confident of the continuing power and relevance of the old Agatha Christie format. The story thrills and entices, like it should, but it's also familiar and pleasurable, a book to be dipped into at leisure rather than one to be read from a grim compulsion to get to the end. James is simply a terrific writer: elegant, erudite and measured.
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on 5 December 2009
Adam Dalgliesh has come a long way since his first appearance in 1962. In the beginning, he was similar to Chief Inspector Morse. Both were highly intelligent men, serious, artistic and isolated. Dalgliesh was an introverted extrovert whilst Morse was an extroverted introvert. Both were loners for quite different reasons, Morse due to a number of disappointed romances and Dalgliesh due to the death of his wife and child. Over the years both characters became set in their ways but was it luck, good fortune or a willingness to seize a brighter future that led Dalgliesh to Emma?

This novel can best be compared to the last Morse novel, The Remorseful Day (Inspector Morse). Despite the fact that both men are of a similar age, in his last novel Morse is a old man whilst the swansong for Dalgliesh sees the possibility of a new start and hope. It is hard to see where their roads diverged but the dramatic difference between their destination is nonetheless important and indeed probably of utmost importance. Morse died unwept, unloved and unsung and didn't even have a public memorial service or burial. In contrast, this novel sees the long awaited marriage of Dalgliesh and hints at a probable retirement from the Met.

Fans of PD James should not expect a formulaic whodunnit in the case of this novel. Whilst it may call itself a murder mystery and indeed has the requisite amount of deaths- the investigations of the deaths is of secondary priority. The main aim of this novel is to tie up loose ends and to lovingly put to rest AD, a character that James has been with for nearly the past fifty years. In letting him go, she also meditates on life and love. The characters that meet unfortunate fates in this book have all chosen solitary paths and became lost in a mire of regret, bitterness and greed. The quality and depth of the prose in places left me having to reread whole paragraphs- the editors must have also have had to reread them, for they are all helpfully italicised. One of the minor characters, a former governess ponders her life and future towards the end of the book and wonders about better ways of living-`she had become used to viewing the wider hostile and alien: an England she could no longer recognize, the earth itself a dying planet...but it was still her world, the one she had been born into. She was part of its corruption and its joys'. One is tempted to wonder if the author is projecting herself onto this character, certainly at a glance they are from remarkably similar backgrounds.

This book is about a redemption that Morse never managed to achieved. It's about the importance of friends, partnership, a sense of community and the frail defense of love in a cruel world that doesn't care and will move on regardless. Deep thoughts indeed but probably best suited to those that have already enjoyed the series of novels.
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on 25 November 2008
I wish I could give 5 stars to this, probably the last PD James mystery featuring the stalwart yet sensitive Commander Adam Dalgleish. Most of the book was 5 star material, with the winning PD James formula of isolated setting, cast of improbably named suspects, a gruesome murder or two, and meandering setting description with words like "minatory", "gule" and "subvention" cropping up early and often to establish once again the author's literary bona fides. (Emma wears not a jacket, but a jerkin, as we are reminded three times in three pages.) The final 80 pages were however a disappointment, a rushed flurry of events, interviews with newly found characters appended in too-neat resolution. The ending seemed hardly connected to the build-up that preceded it. If a mystery lacks a satisfying conclusion, all the previous story-telling seems futile. Sorry to say, I have seen a loss of momentum in PD James's last several mysteries. She takes pains to keep up with the times, but her unnecessary subplot about lesbians is so painstakingly tolerant, so jarring, so entirely lacking in narrative reality. The effort to be open-minded is always just that - an effort, and the display of faux acceptance self-consciously calls attention to itself because it rings false and extraneous to the story. Poor Dalgleish, as I remember from earlier novels, was always more interesting as a solitary poet/police officer. Since he acquired a continuing romantic interest, the incongruously young Emma Lavenham, he has become too comfortably uxorious. His depth has dissipated. The detective sidekicks, Miskin and Benton, while again politically correct, are never as interesting as was Dalgleish at his philosophical best. Dare I add that the dialogue is simply not believable? Only in a PD James novel do characters speak in such perfectly shaped paragraphs.
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VINE VOICEon 27 February 2010
I don't really know where to start with this review because so much of this book was so good, and so much of it was infuriating. Also, although the first part of the book did rack up a certain amount of tension, the denouement was a complete let-down. Nothing was 'solved' or resolved, there were some frankly unbelievable coincidences (the elderly lady in shock after the July 2005 London bombings is a prime case) I'm not entirely sure that the person who confessed to the murders was the murderer, or what the fake will was about, and most annoyingly of all, we don't know the answer to the central mystery of the whole book.

What's good about this book is the descriptive writing. James is superb at describing places and atmosphere, and I actually find the obsession with making sure everyone eats and has regular cups of tea to keep them going very entertaining - you can actually tell if a person is of good, or bad character, by the mealtimes they keep and the cleanliness of their kitchens. This aside, she has to be one of the most elegant writers in the English language today.

But.... she is writing from the viewpoint of somebody who's going to be quite a lot older than most of her readers, so the book does feel as if it's set in the past. James doesn't seem assured writing about mobile phones and computers and while she clearly tries not to be right-wing and old-fashioned in the opinions and viewpoints of her characters, some of the class and race issues raised made me, at least, feel uncomfortable.

I understand this is to be the last book featuring Commander Adam Dalgliesh, and so I'm glad I read it, and I'm glad that he, at least had a happy ending and for that I forgive the pondering and philosophising that takes place in this book. Underlying the story was a kind of sadness, and if this was James' farewell to a central character who's been loved by millions of people, then it's completely understandable.
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on 18 September 2008
The book starts brilliantly. All the ingredients are there. The beautiful language, the mystery, the interesting characters. But in the end of the book a lot falls apart. The solution of the murders are really unsatisfactory. I must admit that I just didn't get it. And the answer why the journalist wanted to get rid of her scar "because I no longer have need for it"(It's on the book sleeve so I don't give anything away)just isn't there. A pity. I have read all her books and she is a huge favorite of mine, but the ending drags down the overall pleasure of this book.
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