Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 271

One major theme conveyed by this text is that appearances are often deceiving. For starters, many people underestimate Cordelia Gray simply because she is a young woman and, perhaps, does not strike someone as being as capable as an older man. She is repeatedly told that running a private detective agency is an "unsuitable job for a woman," as though a young woman simply could not have the intellectual capacity and analytical skills to do the job. One of the best pieces of advice that she recalls from her mentor, Bernie Pryde, has to do with paying attention to what one actually sees and not what one expects to see. Many characters in the novel would do well to live by the same advice. Sir Ronald Callender is another character who is not what he seems to be. Though he says that he hires Cordelia to find out why his son, Mark, hanged himself, it turns out to be very different information that he wants.

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The novel also turns gender stereotypes on their heads, conveying the idea that such stereotypes are arbitrary and meaningless. Cordelia is more than capable of doing a job that most people in the novel see as "man's work." Further, Miss Leaming is just as capable of being ruthless and direct and decisive as say, Sir Ronald, when her interests have been affected. The sexually-liberated Sophie Trilling might also surprise people with her attitudes toward sex and relationships. It also seems that Mark Callender had been a tremendously nurturing person while he was alive—children and the elderly both sensed the gentle and nonjudgmental spirit in him.

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