An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P D James

Book: An Unsuitable Job for a Woman
Author : P D James
Publication Date : 1972

Cordelia Gray was just 22 when she had to take up the responsibility of a detective agency run by her partner, Bernie. He killed himself as he was ailing from cancer. The detective agency was not a huge success. It was then a famous scientist Mr Ronald Callender approached her to solve a case for him.

His son, Mark Callendar who was a dropout from Cambridge committed suicide. He wanted to know why he did so. After opting out of Cambridge, he had taken up a job as a gardener in the house of Markhlands. He was living in a small cottage in their compound. It was there he hanged himself.

When the police found his body, he was wearing jeans and had a smear of lipstick on his lips. Cordelia decided to shift to this cottage so that she could investigate the surroundings including the Cambridge. From Miss Markhland, she came to know that a girl had visited him before his death. Inside the cottage, she found freshly prepared stew and a coffee pot with coffee, definitely not the signs that indicated that he was contemplating suicide. It dawned upon her that it was not a suicide but murder.

Let me tell you, in the beginning, this is not a typical murder mystery. It can mar the fresh perspective, this particular one could offer. I did the same and it was when I reached the middle of the story I realized that it had much more to it. It’s a Cordelia Grey mystery though Adam Dalgliesh would make his entry in the end.

What I liked about the book was the sheer sincerity of the character. Cordelia was not an expert like Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple and she knew that she was vulnerable and lacked experience. But that did not deter her from doing her bit.
Besides, it was also her story of survival. It was clearly said in the title of the book ‘ An unsuitable job for a woman’. Though many pointed out to her that the job was unsuitable, she was adamant about taking it up.

She did not have the experience but she was shrewd and knew how to confront a person during an investigation. Since his boss was dead, there was nobody she could rely upon with her instincts and intuitions. Still, she went ahead and did what she had to do.
This is my first P D James book. I am happy to know that this book comes first in the list of her works which one shouldn’t miss reading if one is a fervent murder mystery fan. I have watched many of P D James’ interviews and I would proudly call my teacher for she had taken me to a different level of the genre called the mystery.

I am sure that I will read this book again. Her writing was like honey dripping from the comb.

By Shalet Jimmy

( Interview ) Sandhya Iyer – Book Reviewer – Mesmerized by Maugham

It’s a matter of great relief that even after technological invasions, the art of reading has not diminished one bit. One of the best examples are the numerous blogs which speak only about books. When some do it professionally, some for the pure love of reading. Sandhya Iyer’s blog belongs to the latter category. Hence, she is in no hurry to come up with the review of latest releases. Instead, she just ruminates over books of different genres and comes up with insightful reviews. Perhaps this might be the reason page hits on her blog never come down even when she leaves it unattended for almost a year. No doubt, her blog can be used as a reference material.

Sandhya’s blog also lured me to read her favourite author Somerset Maugham. I am currently reading his The Painted Veil ( English)

If you love books and want to start a serious conversation on books, Sandhya’s blog The Summing Up is the right platform for it.

Let me introduce her to you.

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1. Sandhya, tell us about yourself.

If you ask from the point of view of career, then much of my time has been spent in various newsrooms. I started as a campus reporter at Midday, where I connected with some of the best and brightest names in journalism. My love for language was constant, and I think, without realising it, I had a deep interest in the business of information dissemination as well. I went on to work with The Times of India, Sakaal Times and The New India Express (Kochi). With both journalism and publishing careers being on the decline, it is important to consider fields where editorial skills would still be valuable but in a new context. Content publishing for brands is a growing field, and I do see myself gravitating towards it.

2. After reading your blog, I presume that Somerset Maugham is one of your favourite authors. Even your blog is named after his last work ‘ The Summing Up.’ How did you come to being his avid admirer?

I remember a friend showing me a film called ‘The Painted Veil.’ I was deeply touched by that experience, and I ended up reading the book on which the film was based. Soon, that book became one of my most favourite possessions, because everything in that novel – right from its genteel Edwardian setting, the powerful plot line, the searing insight it provides into the human condition, and its ability to be so perceptive about human weakness – spoke to me in a manner few others ever have. I was mesmerised by Maugham, and soon enough, I was devouring every one of his books. I was lucky he has a tall body of work, and the four years that it took me to read up his entire oeuvre gave me immeasurable happiness.


3. Your book reviews are insightful. You are concentrating not only on fiction but all genres. What is your criteria for selecting a book for reading and book reviewing?

Yes, my book blog is an indulgence for me, in that I don’t necessarily review latest releases. In fact, most of the books that I have written about are classics or contemporary classics. I read and review as I please. I was doing a lot of book reviews for the newspapers I worked for, so that allowed me to keep my blog going.  Usually, though, I like to read books that I feel are relevant to my life phase in some sense. When I moved to Toronto, I had a deep urge to know more about Canada, and hence I took up books that could give me an insight into the country’s cultural and political character. Now, that I am not reviewing professionally, I choose books with particular care.

4. When did you start blogging?

As early as 2007. I was doing a lot of writing anyway as a journalist, and maintaining a blog seemed like a logical thing to do.

5. I had never thought of buying a Kindle until a month ago when I realised that it is one of the best possible ways to read my favourite books without spending too much money. What is your take on e-books?

I haven’t used Kindle yet, but I am sure I will like it a lot. Books for me are a way to get away from technology. I do a lot of short-form reading on my laptop, Ipad, and smart phone, but I tend to turn to physical books for immersive leisure reading. One of the reasons is because I currently have access to one of the best libraries, where practically any book can be found. I also tend to mark a lot of words and sentences, and then take notes later. But yes, there is no doubt that physical books are not going to be with us forever. They are already becoming scarce and in 50 years, they could well become a curious object like a cassette or typewriter.


6. Are you a fast reader? Do you also review every book you read?


I am not a fast reader necessarily, but I am a committed reader. When I’m reading a book that gives me endless joy and thrill, I actually tend to slow down my reading, so I can savour every word and phrase. I don’t actually review all the books I read, for various reasons. Sometimes I am so overwhelmed by the writing that I can’t summon up the courage to review it. But mostly, when I don’t review a book I read, it is because of laziness and a lack of time.


7. You have another blog called ‘ Matinee Mix’ which concentrates on movies. Unlike your book blog, it is not updated frequently. The reviews are insightful just like your book blog. Do you plan to revive it in the near future?


I was a film reporter for many years. I was always passionate about movies and had a thorough knowledge of the beat. I’m proud to have done some memorable interviews. Again, like my book blog, I started Matinee Mix because I was writing a lot on films. I haven’t been updating that blog at all because my film viewing has drastically reduced. Also, whenever I feel like saying something about a film, I tend to post a few lines on FB or on some other film blog.


8. Most readers nurture a dream of being a writer? Do you have such a dream or a plan?


Definitely! The more you read, the better equipped you are to tell a story. There are no immediate plans, but I do see myself writing a short story at the very least. I think we can agree that pursuing a writing career is not all that feasible. The publishing industry is on the decline, so writing a book is more a matter of self-expression and prestige rather than an avenue for making a lot of money.  There are exceptions of course, but by and large, even well-known writers have to take up second jobs such as teaching to make their writing careers viable.


9. Which is your favourite genre? What is your take on ‘ Surrealist fiction’?


In fiction, I enjoy period dramas, family stories, romances etc. I don’t think I have read any surrealist fiction.

10. Do you think reading ‘Classics’ is a must for a book reader? If yes, suggest some of the must read books?

I think classics are classics for a reason, so it is always good to dip into it.  But remember the reputation of an author or book waxes and wanes through the passage of time. Stunningly, Somerset Maugham was undermined by critics for a long time, which meant his name never appeared among the greats. However, his books have lived on. There is something to be said about the timeless wisdom and perspicuity in Maugham’s writing that his plays are regularly staged for audiences around the world, and his novels continue to be adapted for the big screen. Not all classics are timeless, but a good number of them are. My own favourites are Jane Austen, George Eliot, and Mark Twain. Among the books that have made a deep impression on me are Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer and Middlemarch.  I have read all of Maugham’s books, but my personal favourite would be The Painted Veil, Up At The Villa, The Vagrant Mood, and his play, The Land of Promise. I am also a huge admirer of his short story collections.

11. Now Amish’s Sita, the warrior has been released. Chetan Bhagat’s book has been included in the syllabus of Delhi University. What is your take on Indian contemporary writers and Indian writing in English?

I always enjoy reading Indian writing in English. There is so much atmospherics that our writers are able to capture. But I don’t know the wisdom of having Chetan Bhagat’s book as part of the syllabus. He is an important phenomenon in terms of making book-reading accessible to the average or below average English reader, but I don’t think I’d like to do a critical analysis of his plot or characters as part of a course. Some of the books that are prescribed in a course are the only ones many students will ever read in their entire lifetimes, so careful deliberation should be there in choice of books.


 12. Apart from reading and writing what are your other interests?


Cooking, nature, music, shopping for this and that…

13.Your 10 favourite books and 10 movies

Books

Funny Boy – Shyam Selvadurai
The Hungry Ghosts – Shyam Selvadurai
The Painted Veil – Somerset Maugham
The Vagrant Mood – Somerset Maugham
Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Persuasion – Jane Austen
Middlemarch- George Eliot
Bookless in Baghdad – Shashi Tharoor
The Land of Promise – Somerset Maugham

Films
Lagaan
Piku
Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander
Kandukondain Kandukondain (Tamil)
Varavelpu (Malayalam)
Masoom
The Second Best Marigold Hotel
The Best Marigold Hotel
Bangalore Days

14. How many books do you have in your library?

250 plus.

– by Shalet Jimmy

 

Dragonmede by Rona Randall

Originally published: 1974
Author: Rona Randall
Genres: Romance novel, Fantasy Fiction

” Dawn sliced through the curtains as the ghostly edges of a hoar frost,” says Rona Randall in her Gothic mystery ‘ Dragonmede’. Eustacia Rochdale, the female lead in the story also experiences the similar fate. Though she married the man she loved and wanted, it sliced her life as the ghostly edges of a hoar frost. When she married Julian Kershaw, little did she know that her yearning for a marital bliss would be a bane of her life.

The story was set in the London of the 1800’s, when every door opened for the nobility. It was this privilege which brought Julian Kershaw to Luella’s ( Eustacia’s mother’s )gambling house. A born nonconformist, Luella never wanted her daughter to have a bohemian life which she was indulged in. She gave anything and everything to her daughter which was required for a girl to be a lady. Luella’s efforts also did not go in vain as  Eustacia grew up with everything needed to be a lady though born to a bohemian mother.

Luella was overtly delighted when Julian, the heir of Dragonmede reached her threshold. Gambling on his passion for cards and his attraction for Eustacia, Luella realised that the time had come for Eustacia to tie the knot. Unaware of her mother’s manipulations, Eustacia married Julian and reached Dragonmede, her husband’s home which offered her nothing but a house full of mysteries.

Though I am a die-hard of Gothic fiction, the story initially failed to lure my interest. As any other mystery fictions, I was expecting a twist at the very outset which was completely absent in the story. The only cue, the writer leaves is that there is some mystery but not easy for the reader to identify it. No murder, stealing, kidnapping, murder attempts, deaths but an all-pervading sense of mystery. But when the story progressed, I could feel my pulse raising and could close the book only after finished reading it. The reader could definitely identify the culprit but only at the very end, with just two or three pages to complete.

 I felt a sense of satisfaction after reading ‘Dragonmede’. The moment I finished it, I saw four stars shining. 

Shalet Jimmy

Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie (1936)

 

Mr Shaitana was a person of dubious character. He was attending a snuff box exhibition when he ran into our own detective Hercule Poirot. Shaitana was quick enough to invite him for dinner and lured him to meet some strange invitees.
There was something peculiar about that invitation. A collector of many strange things, Shaitana also nurtured a macabre habit. Some of the invitees to the dinner invitation were none other than people who have gotten away easily after committing murders. He had a strange talent of extracting hidden secrets from people and he used his talent arduously to find such people and bring them together to a dinner table at his house.
Finally, the fateful day had come. After the dinner, the guests decided to play bridge and divided themselves into two groups.

When the first group consisted of Dr Roberts, Major Despard, Mrs Lorrimer and Miss Anne Meredith, the second group consisted of Hercule Poirot, Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard, detective fiction writer Mrs Adriane Oliver and Colonel Race, a retired secret service operative.

Both of the groups sat in two different rooms while Shaitana, the host did not take part in the game but sat in the first room by the fire, observing the players.

When they approached their host to bid good bye, after the bridge, to their utter shock, they found him murdered in his chair. He was stabbed in the neck with a stiletto.

In no time, Superintendent Battle took charge of the situation. It was then, the players in the second room realised that Shaitana had carefully picked his guests. While the guests in the second room were associated with investigation and authority, his choice of guests in the first room was a hint from Shaitana that they were possibly murderers who had gotten away after committing it. Shaitana had suggested the same thing to Hercule Poirot when they met at the snuff box exhibition.

Never in the wildest of his dreams, he might have thought that by inviting such people he was inviting his own death.

According to Christie, this was Hercule Poirot’s favourite case though Hastings, his companion found it dull. For a change, she had come up with three other sleuths as well along with Poirot to nab the culprit from among the four possible murderers. It’s not mostly the clues which had helped the four detectives in their sleuthing but pure psychology.

Though I understood the basic plot, the reading became a bit strainful when Poirot decided to analyse the suspects from their bridge scores. Because I don’t know how to play bridge. Besides, there were many twists and turns.

Like most of her novels, Agatha Christie in this novel too was adamant that the reader shouldn’t find out the culprit before she discloses it to them. Even though she had offered a clue in the foreword of the novel that there were four possible murderers, I failed miserably in detecting the real one. But that’s the fun of it and that makes her the ” Queen of Crime “.

To talk about the character Mrs Adriane Oliver, the ‘whodunnit’ mystery writer, she was full of energy and fun and Agatha Christie did leave no stones unturned to poke her.

Long and short, in her 25th novel, her plotting abilities were at its zenith.

Peril at End House by Agatha Christie

 

Someone wants Nick Buckley to be killed and she had survived four death threats….But things appear not too bleak as the famous detective Hercule Poirot with his best friend Hastings is in the vicinity.

But what perplexes Poirot is the lack of a substantial motive to kill Miss Buckley. The ‘ End House ’ she owns is already in debt and he could see no other motives which actually want someone to make an attempt on her life.

But a murder was destined to happen. Even the foolproof arrangements made by Poirot could not prevent someone from getting murdered at the End House. Unfortunately, it was Maggie Buckley, her cousin who came to be with Nick gets killed. As she had worn her cousin’s shawl, the murderer easily got confused her with Nick.

But the lack of a motive continues to perplex Poirot and it goes to such an extent that even Hastings who has strong faith in his friend’s ‘ grey cells’ starts thinking that this case will be written off as Poirot’s unsolved mystery.
‘End House’ is considered as the one of best works of Agatha Christie.
From the beginning, I knew the culprit. But it might be just because of the tendency to pinpoint the most unlikely person as the murderer. Besides, being an ardent fan of her plots I, now want to acquire her skill of adeptly joining the dots that leads to the murderer.

” If you are an Agatha Christie fan, this is a must read and tell me your experiences with Hercule Poirot. “

 

A tap on the window – Linwood Barclay

P D James, the acclaimed crime fiction writer believed murder mysteries were made of clues and not coincidences. But when it came to Linwood Barclay’s ‘ A tap on the window’, it was just the opposite. It was just full of coincidences.

It all began when a teenage girl tapped on the window of Mr Weaver’s car asking for a ride. He refused as he knew that it wouldn’t be a good idea to give a lift to a girl at night. But he couldn’t resist any longer when she said she knew his son Scott who died two months ago.

The death of his son was yet to sink in for him and his wife. They could not bring themselves to believe that he had jumped from a building. Of course, he was under the influence of ecstasy. Still! could he just jump to end his life?

Cal Weaver who was a private detective was in search of an answer for his son’s death and when Claire Sanders, the girl asked for a ride said she knew Scott, he just admitted the girl into the car, thinking he might get some leads that could direct him to his son’s death. On the way, she said she would like to stop at Iggy’s, a restaurant for she was feeling sick and wanted to use the wash room before they proceed to her house.

Even after 15 minutes, when she did not come back, he decided to check. He couldn’t find her anywhere in the bathroom. Thinking she might have left through another entrance, he came to the car just to see that she was sitting inside his vehicle. It just took a few seconds for Weaver to understand that the girl who was sitting inside his vehicle was not Claire but somebody else who dressed like her.

When the questions came pouring in, she demanded to get out of the car and Weaver had to drop her in the middle of the road. Very soon, he along with boyfriend found her dead body under the bridge where Weaver had dropped her. He was quick to realise that/if the second girl was killed, the life of Claire was no doubt in danger. And when he inquired he could find that she was missing too. Since he was dragged into it, he felt that he should go in search of her.

Weaver was sure that the girls were followed by somebody and they played the game to hoodwink the stalker.

At the same time, there were so many happenings taking place in Griffon city which was on the borders of Canada. The Police Chief and Mayor of the city were at loggerheads. Claires Sanders was the daughter of the Mayor Bert Sanders and the police chief Augustus Perry was the brother – in-law of Weaver.
Cops Brindles and Haines were giving Weaver, a tough time. Hanna who died was underage but was delivering beer to the people.

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Linwood Barclay

I have mixed feelings about this book of Linwood Barclay. ( came across an interview of Barclay in tallulahlucy.com.) Here it is.

It might be due to the reason that for the past several days, I was just reading classics and classic mysteries. I really had to struggle hard to get out of that world and embrace the modernity.

For the first few pages, I couldn’t find anything substantial happening and that dampened my spirit. I was expecting something else just like his wonderful book ‘ No time to say good bye “. Hence, I just searched for it in the good reads and my friends over there assured me with their reviews that it’s a good book and you could witness the elements of suspense only if I read till the end. That was what I did. Still, I am in a dilemma. I could not specifically that I liked or disliked it. Maybe, I stand in the midway.

Sometimes, I used to think that Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes would not have done this way. Then I reprimanded myself for thinking like that as this murder mystery was all about coincidences and our protagonist was dragged into it. He was a vulnerable man which was perfectly fine.

Barclay has effectively portrayed the emotional turmoil, the Weaver and his wife Donna was going through due to the death of their son. They blamed themselves. It was not that they were not caring parents. First I thought I was not convinced of the motive which made the culprit to take a few drastic steps. Later, I realised it would be wrong to say that as the human nature was beyond comprehension. If you like Linwood Barclay, then go for this book.

Having said all these, I just loved his yet another book ” No time to say Good bye “

As a reader and a book reviewer, what kind of posts you expect from a Book blog. Write to me. 

 

The Accident on the A35 by Graeme Macrae Burnet

 

A few months ago, I chanced upon an interview of one of the greatest crime fiction writers, late P D James. Till then, I had not read a single book of hers.

But to my surprise, her interview made me look at crime fiction with a different perspective and it was much of a consolation for an ardent crime lover like me to know that unlike common perception where the so called ‘ serious readers’ brush crime noir aside as mere pulp fiction  ( I believe this is a trend in India and thankfully, it is slowly changing) , the genre really has a long back history and depth. Besides, we  have bequeathed rich classic crime literature that many are not aware of.

It made me delve into P D James’ celebrated book – “ An Unsuitable Job for a Woman”. Though I had been reading mysteries for quite a while, the book felt so different and new. It seemed as if I was seriously getting one with the characters in it. And for the first time, I learnt that the characters in the crime noir could have emotions . That was my first stint with the real crime noir.

Strangely,  I felt the same tempo when I was reading Graeme Macrae Burnet’s The Accident on the A35 ’ too.

It all began when an acclaimed solicitor Bertrand Barthelem’s car meets with an accident and owing to this, Police Chief Georges Gorski’s daily routine is disrupted. Considering the social standing of the solicitor,
 Gorski believes that he himself should go and break the news to his family. But what perplexes him is that even after disclosing such a news, the solicitor’s wife Lucette and son Raymond are  hardly moved by the solicitor’s death.

And also the fact that Lucette seems to be many years younger than the solicitor makes the police chief stray a bit, who has already separated from his wife.

Partly to please Lucette, he starts an unofficial investigation when she says that her husband had no reasons to be on the A35 as he had the habit of ‘supping’ with his colleagues that particular day, every week. In no time, Gorski finds out that the solicitor had used his ‘ routine supper’ as a cover up to hide something from his wife. What was it? His further investigation reveals that the solicitor had withdrawn a huge amount of money on that day when he was killed.

Besides, he also thinks the solicitor has something to do with the murder of a woman at Strasbourg which happened the same day he got killed in the accident.

On the other hand, Solicitor’s young son Raymond also begins a parallel investigation when he gets a paper neatly tucked
in a table of his father’s study that bore the address of some woman.

The narration has the pace of a serious classic crime literature. I also felt a strong resemblance between James’ detective Cordelia Gray and Gorski especially when it comes to their vulnerability. He has delved deeply into the characters of Gorski and Raymond. To talk more about the latter, his troubled psyche has been analysed meticulously and Raymond evolves through the story.

Will it be far-fetched if I say Raymond resembles ‘Mersaul’t from Albert Camu’s ‘ The Stranger’- You decide.

The writing is like honey dripping from the comb. But what puzzles me is that though it is called a crime fiction, it does not actually fit the description.
The real objective of crime noir is the restoration of order. Here, though some situations are straightened out, there are some more mess to be cleaned up.
 The author leaves his readers midway  as ‘ the Murder on the A35 has a open ending. I am perfectly fine if there’s a sequel.

So, will there be a sequel ?

PS : This is a review copy, I received from Bee books, Kolkata

 

” Share with me your thoughts on this book “