The stated purpose of Murder By Type is to introduce writers whose talents deserve far greater attention than they have received. P. D. James doesn’t fall into this category. She does write wonderful books.
THE PRIVATE PATIENT is the usual mix of characters, motives, secrets, and atmosphere that make P.D. James books a reliably good reading experience. Rhoda Gladwyn is the private patient who chooses to have a facial scar, inflicted upon her in childhood by her drunken father, removed after 34 years. She tells the celebrated surgeon, George Chandler-Powell. that she no longer “has need of it.” She doesn’t explain and she decides to have the surgery at Cheverell Manor, the private clinic he owns in Dorset. Chandler-Powell is surprised at her decision since her ties are to London but he promises that she will have all the privacy she desires, including ensuring that she has no visitors as she recuperates.
Marcus Westhall is another surgeon who works at the clinic; he and his sister share a cottage on the estate. Candace Westhall had left her teaching position at a university to care for their dying father and after his death she stays on to help with running the domestic side of the clinic. Candace is adamant that George Chandler-Powell is making a terrible mistake in allowing Rhoda Gradwyn to come to the clinic because Rhoda is an investigative journalist with a reputation for savaging her subjects. But George refuses, believing that Rhoda can do no harm to the reputation of the clinic. Then Rhoda is murdered and her death drives away all the high paying private patients that made Chandler-Powell wealthy and successful. Dalgliesh and his team are pulled into the investigation by politically important people who have benefited from Chandler-Powell’s expertise. The team are not pleased but soon realize that there are complicated stories in the lives of the people at Cheverell Manor and these stories need to be played out because of the death of the private patient.
James does not write stories that are action based. It seems important to remember that Adam Dalgliesh is more than the highest ranking officer at Scotland Yard; he is a highly regarded published poet and James couches Dalgliesh’s public life in the evocative words a poet would use. Each character is described in detail with words that create for the reader an aura, rather than a physical identity. James also provides a detailed sense of place. Descriptions of houses, gardens, paintings, furnishings create a stage on which the characters act. Some are deeply attached to Cheverell Manor, some wish to be, and some want to escape but all the characters are formed to greater and lesser degrees by the atmosphere engendered by their individual responses to their surroundings.
P.D. James created Adam Dalgliesh as a master of words, each one chosen to convey meaning and emotion in his poems. P.D. James creates for the reader a Cheverell Manor that is real, and a cast of characters who are tied to the private patient in ways they could never have imagined.