An Unsuitable Job for a Woman traces P. D. James’s detective Cordelia Gray in her first solo case. While investigating the death of Mark Callender, Cordelia also learns about herself and about the suitability of detective work as a job for a woman. In the tradition of detective fiction, the reader accompanies Cordelia through the major stages of her investigation as she gradually uncovers the truth.
At the novel’s opening, Cordelia learns that her partner has cut his wrists after learning that he has terminal cancer. Bernie Pryde had once served in the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) for the London Metropolitan Police, where he had studied under Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh (the central detective in many of James’s other novels). Dalgliesh had later fired Pryde, but Pryde continued to regard him as the final authority in how detection should be done, and Cordelia adopts a similar attitude toward Pryde and indirectly toward Dalgliesh as well. Throughout the novel, she reminds herself of the precepts that Pryde supposedly learned from Dalgliesh.
During her first interview with Sir Ronald Callender, Cordelia is struck by his odd detachment from his dead son, but she takes him at his word, that he accepts the police’s conclusion and merely wishes to understand why Mark committed suicide. At Mark’s cottage, however, Cordelia quickly begins to suspect that Mark was actually murdered. Nothing else could account for the peculiarities of the uneaten dinner and the coffee jug. Cordelia soon begins to identify with the dead young man. When she...
(The entire section is 648 words.)