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.
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!
There are indications during the story that this was intended to be the final book in the series featuring Commander Adam Dalgliesh, policeman and poet, and his colleagues from the Special Investigations Squad, SIS, even if the author lived for a further six years.
The first sentence immediately grabs the reader’s interest ‘On November 21st, the day of her forty-seventh birthday, and three weeks and two days before she was murdered, Rhoda Gradwyn went to Harley Street to keep a first appointment with her plastic surgeon’.
Most of the action, described in four parts over the following month, is set in and around Cheverelle Manor in Dorset [which ‘couldn't hope to rival the magnificent great hall or gardens of Athelhampton, the breathtaking beauty of the setting of Encombe, or the nobility and history of Wolfeton’], the residential clinic of George Chandler-Powell. The final part of the story is set the following Spring.
Rhoda has carried a facial scar since a teenager but, when asked by the surgeon why she has chosen to have it removed now, she replies enigmatically that ‘I no longer have need of it.’ SIS, rather than the local force, are involved following the intervention of a very senior politician. One reason for this is the high-level connections of the only other patient at the Manor, another perhaps being that Rhoda is a notorious investigative journalist.
The Manor is home to an assortment of characters with secrets and grudges, and also to a stone circle in which young Mary Keyte was burned as a witch in 1654, and around which events in this book revolve. James’ writing overcomes a somewhat creaky plot, some rather unconvincing characters, most notably the handiman/gardener Mogworthy, and the late entrance of several key characters. However, she rises to the occasion, nowhere more successfully than when describing over several pages the discovery of a second body. By then there is no shortage of suspects and motives proliferate.
Much of the action is static, occurring through interviews [several on site in the library], although we are in the second half before the first of these occurs, and evening recapitulations of the day’s progress involving Dalgliesh, and DI Kate Miskin and DS Francis Benton-Smith – the pressure that the Commander puts on his colleagues through his forensic questioning being palpable. Whilst periodic asides describe the personal situations of the two senior officers, Benton remains curiously underdeveloped. Detecting comes just a little too easily to all three with Dalgliesh hardly taking a false step throughout.
The leisurely pace of the first three-quarters of the story is contrasted by the somewhat rushed development in the final quarter and this produces a rather unbalanced whole. This, coupled with almost all the characters being unpleasant or overbearing, means that this is by no means the best of the series but remains a satisfying read especially when the author’s eighty-eight years are taken into account. Although unpleasant, Rhoda is by far the most interesting character but despite spending many pages in her company she remains frustratingly elusive to the reader.
The writing is layered with copious detail, whether describing urban or rural locations, and major and minor characters. In the hands of another the reader might feel stifled [or stangled!] but james’s experience allows her to carry it off. Just when the development seems to be flagging at the Manor, characters return to London and new energy is introduced. As befits the author’s style and antecedents, descriptions of home-made food and taking tea supplant descriptive references to sex and bodily injuries, even when these are germane to the plot. It may be heresy to mention it but pages of descriptive text might have been replaced by one site map of the Manor and its neighbourhood that could be turned to whenever needed.
If the solution is ultimately unsatisfying this is still a book to enjoy and appreciate. It goes without saying that readers new to Dalgliesh should not start with this 14th book in the series.
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.
PD James has been on my `authors to read' list for a quite some time, partly because I have understood her to be, from various reviews, a beautiful writer but additionally I was intrigued by her own story as someone who came to writing success relatively late in life. As an aspiring author myself, cruising to the end of my thirties, perhaps I'm looking for some inspirational authors to maintain the hope that success may also come to me in later years.
Regarding the quality of writing, I have no qualms at all. At times it takes a poetic elegance and flows from the page effortlessly including just the right level of physical description so as not to be overbearing but allows you to formulate a reasonable impression of the surroundings. I have to say I greatly enjoy writing like this, where you seem to progress through paragraphs with ease and no clunky devices crudely implemented to grab attention.
However, pleasure derived from the quality of the writing was not sufficient to maintain my interest in this novel and at times I found it a struggle to read. The primary source of my frustration was the lack of realism in the characters dialogue. There were occasions where I had to remind myself that I was reading a modern novel set in relatively recent times as the dialogue seemed to come from the imagined mouths of characters borrowed from the early nineteen hundreds with little distinction between them. Had this been a murder mystery set in at around that time I would have probably enjoyed it more, however it seemed to be the square peg of historic fiction squeezed into the round hole of the modern world resulting in an uncomfortable fit.
As others on here have stated the author also seems to fit in, in occasionally an all too obvious fashion, their own opinions on various current affairs. I have no issue with authors colouring their stories with their own beliefs but here they just seemed to be forced into the dialogue and thoughts of characters with insufficient justification for their sudden appearance.
Additionally it became quite ponderous and characters veered into tangents that did little to support the central plot. Perhaps this is deliberate in order to mask the key elements that later become vital to the outcome, however if that was the purpose it didn't feel as though the balance had been met.
I did of course finish the book and I am pleased to have `ticked off' PD James from my authors to read list. As stated above, she is a writer of quality so I will endeavour to read her again at some point in the future if only to enjoy once more the elegance of her work, but I am unlikely to return to this specific novel in the future.