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on 7 February 2001
PD James produces superbly written, intricately detailed and meticulously crafted detective stories. Innocent Blood, however, is a departure from her usual whodunits as neither Chief Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh nor the young private detective Cordelia Gray is featured, and there is no crime to detect. Of the two murders that permeate the story, one happened ten years ago; the murderers were brought to justice and the crime itself, once front-page news, is now nearly forgotten. The other murder is yet to happen, and we watch it being planned.
The book is set in 1978 (it was written in 1980) and takes as its starting point the Children's Act of 1975, by which adopted adults had, for the first time in Britain, the right of access to their original birth certificates, and thereby the means of tracing their natural parents. Philippa Palfrey is intellectual, privileged and gifted, and was adopted at the age of eight into an affluent but emotionally stunted family. Apart from a few flashes of memory, she has no recollection of her life before the adoption; all that she knows of her background is what her adoptive parents have told her and the cosy fantasies she has constructed for herself...it is a tribute to James' powerful writing that, even when you know it's coming, the moment that Philippa quite casually learns the truth is still shocking...
Philippa is not an appealing heroine but her arrogance hides her insecurity and desperate need to belong. Her emotional awakening and eventual self-realisation is one of the key themes of the book. But it's also a study of deceit: lies told for good or selfish reasons, how they alter the course of a life, and the way we blindly and wilfully collude in our own deception. It's an emotionally harrowing book, but utterly absorbing. James' descriptions of people, even of minor characters, are vivid; her locations, the different 'villages' of London in particular, are so accurately detailed that I had to check my A to Z to be certain that the roads in which her characters live are fictional; I first read this book in one sitting; I found it impossible to put down. It's a tour de force by an intelligent and accomplished writer who is also deeply compassionate, and the book ends with the promise that one of those who had been as dead has at last discovered the way back to life. If you only read one PD James book, read this one. Better still, read them all.
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on 11 August 2003
I bought this book to read if I got really bored on holiday. In the end the holiday had to be worked round the book as it refused to be put down. A departure from P D James' more usual "detective novel", this story seems closer to the Ruth Rendell-as-Barbara Vine physcological thriller. The plot is centred on a past murder and its drastic reprocussions for two very different people caught up in its wake.
The novel is beautifully written with vivid descriptions of people and places and enough sense of impending disaster to keep you reading. I particulary liked the way in which one character's plans to commit a violent act of revenge were described in a completely deadpan way as if he was planning something as harmless as his annual holiday. This technique simply made the story all the more disturbing.
Gripping stuff!
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on 1 February 2005
The material is excellent: Philippa was adopted as a child. She has now turned 18 and can claim her original birth certificate - and seek out her natural mother. Philippa has grown up in the comfortable home of a celebrated academic, she is breezing through her A levels with distinction, a place at Oxford awaits her. All is secure. Until the birth certificate arrives and she makes a shocking discovery whose consequences provide the rest of the story.
Good stuff. You really feel for such a heroine, don't you? Well no, not this heroine, that's the trouble. In order to maximize the impact of the forthcoming revelations, the author has drawn Philippa as a cold and frighteningly superior young woman. And unfortunately she has succeeded in this only too well. Philippa is simply insufferable, and however much fortune rocks her stable surroundings she never loses that cold glitter of intellectual disdain. The other major character is Maurice, her adoptive father the academic, and he isn't much better either. When his first wife died Maurice married Hilda who, to please him, has become a fabulous cook, hostess and homemaker. But poor Hilda is uneducated and deplorably lower middle-class, so both Maurice & Philippa treat her with a kind of well-bred contempt. "We both wish we could love Hilda" Maurice says. Well yes, so did I, Maurice. And perhaps that is all it would have taken to redeem this book: a little less sneering and a tad more affection. A touch of ordinary, unexceptional, uncelebrated, non-class-conscious human feeling.
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on 17 June 2013
I have read most, if not all, of P. D. James' novels, including the Inspector Dalgliesh and Cordelia Grey detective stories and Children of Men, a dystopian novel concerning the end of the human race due to infertility.

Innocent Blood was written in 1980 and is a stand alone novel and, while not a detective story, is an excellent psychological thriller dealing with the usual themes of love, loss, quest for identity, adaptation and redemption but the overriding question of nature versus nurture must be in the minds of most people while reading this book.

Philippa Palfrey was adopted as an eight year-old by an affluent couple, Maurice and Hilda. When she is eighteen she exercises her right under The Children's Act of 1975, which allowed for adopted children, once they reached the age of eighteen, to know the identity of their biological parents. What Philippa discovers about her parents, Martin and Mary Ducton, is truly shocking i.e. her father was a child rapist and her mother a child murderer. While her father has since died her mother is still alive and due to be released from prison.

Philippa finds a flat to rent in London and sets about refurbishing it with a view to providing a place for her mother to come to on her release and where they both can live, on a temporary basis and get to know each other.

For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the book was reading of Phillipa's efforts to do up the flat on a shoestring and then the accounts of the trips she and her mother take around the capital to reintroduce Mary to London; I also enjoyed the comraderie that seemed to develop between them as they performed the low paid work they took to subsist.

All the time Phillipa and her mother are getting to know each other, the father of the murdered child is also aware that Mary Ducton has been released from prison and is stalking her.

I found it hard to like any of the characters while still having great compassion for Norman whose child was so brutally violated and murdered, but also for Phillipa who though well cared for in the material sense grew up in a rather cold and academic atmosphere. I found Phillipa's adoptive mother, Hilda, the most sympathetic character in the book; she married a man who never loved her, adopted a daughter who could never love her and being a gifted cook, prepared the most delicious but largely unappreciated meals for her family. Hilda obviously had love to give and I was pleased to see she finally found a focus for that love in the puppy Scamp, who comes into her life towards the end of the novel.

Quite simply, I think this novel is extremely well crafted and beautifully written as one has come to expect of the inimitable Ms. James. I would highly recommend this book.
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on 6 December 2014
Having not been overwhelmed by 'The Private Patient' recently I thought 'Innocent Blood* was P.D. James at her best. Her characters were beautifully drawn and came to life, as did the places. The plot was unusual and no detective was required. I couldn't put it down.
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Very well written story about Philippa Palfrey who knows she's adopted but wants to discover the mystery of her parentage and makes use of the 1975 Children Act to access her birth records, what she discovers is very disturbing when it becomes evident that she's not , as she thought , the daughter of an aristocrat but finds that her origins are altogether more mundane and terrifying. It brings into question whether nurture or nature matter when determining how a child turns out. The novel is a refreshing change from most modern novels and a return to when authors wrote with more than a rudimentary knowledge of the English language.
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on 16 May 2016
This is a rare stab of PD James at psychological novel, and a very good one. The plot, concerning a young woman adopted into a well-to-do family, embarking on a journey to find her biological mother, is rather easy to follow. But the nuances and details of characters' actions are so well put together and motivated that they make a series of happening chances completely believable.
The novel is deliberately paced, yet very rewarding, Baroness James shows that - if she wanted - she would do without a great detective. Here, she did it on the level of best works written by her excellent peer, Ruth Rendell. The final 60 pages are action-packed but written in a very elegant, thoughtful manner. It makes for a beautiful reading experience.
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on 3 February 2008
I am sorry to be so blunt.

My early assumption was that the story line had an intriguing ring: London, end of the 70s. A young lady, Philippa, knowing she had been adopted, sets out to look for her biological parents. Her adoptive parents, with whom she never quite had a close relationship, are unhappy about this choice but nothing can stop Philippa. What she eventually finds out about her biological parents is shocking but, seemingly unperturbed, she sets out to try and establish a contact to learn more about her early childhood. Meanwhile, somebody else is looking into the past and, unbeknownst to anybody, is waiting for the right time to strike out, to quench the thirst of vendetta over the murder of his young daughter years ago.

Although the linguistic structure is definitely high class, the narrative is just too tediously overly-descriptive, resulting in total failure to engage me fully as a good thriller should do. I often found myself skimming through some parts, trying to get to the core of the chapter. Additionally, none of the main characters, Philippa in primis, were particularly likeable one way or the other, no matter how tragic or sad their backgrounds. This too, contributed to a certain degree of dislike for the whole tale.

I know and respect Mrs. P.D. James' reputation as a writer, but this book just was not for me.
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on 25 September 2012
This is by far my favourite P.D. James, mainly because it isn't a Dalglish and doesn't feature people in velvet skirts living in country cottages in Norfolk.

Philippa Palfrey is a girl who is able, now she is 18, to find out the truth about her natural parents - she is adopted. P.D. James pulls off the difficult trick of making this central heroine rather an unattractive character, yet one who you are keen on finding more about. It turns out that Philippa's version of her true parentage is deluded, encouraged in part by her adoptive parents. Philippa's suspicion that her adoptive father, who is a famous sociologist, 'took her on' as some kind of social experiment is further complicated when she finds out the full horror of who her real parents were.

As a Londoner, I like the London setting and the way that P.D James realistically defines the different lives lived here - rich privileged Pimlico versus poorer eastern suburbs and rented rooms in Marylebone. The story ends in murder - naturally - but it is very hard to guess who will die and by whose hand before it happens. Exploring issues such as is the murder gene inherited, and nature versus nurture, this story has many levels, but most importantly it is unputdownable and a compulsive read.
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on 16 March 2015
I've not been sure about P.D. James books for a while. I can see the books are well written, but they've always felt dated, as if they were written in a bygone age. This book feels the same.

James has written a number of books, mostly about Adam Dalgliesh, but also a couple of Cordelia Gray books. This book focuses of neither. In this book we see an adoptee try and track down her biological parents, only to find out that her mother had done something so despicable that it makes it hard for her to be loved. At the same time there's friction in the adoptees family, and another character who has issues with the "biological mother", and we watch this developed through most of the book.

The biggest problems were that no one is likeable. I guess James decided we needed that to ensure that we could accept the punishment that we're expecting throughout the book (we don't want a likeable character sent off to prison), but it didn't make for an enjoyable read.
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