Set in the early 70s, this mystery starts off with a suicide. Cordelia Gray walks into the detective agency she and former cop, Bernie Pryde opened and found that he had slit his wrists and left everything to her, including his unregistered gun. Even though the typist quits, and everyone keeps telling her that this is "an unsuitable job for a woman", she intends to make a go of it.
Soon she receives a call from a famous scientist and conservationist Sir Ronald Callender's assistant Elizabeth Leaming. Callender's son Mark has just committed suicide and he wants to know why. There is no suspicion of anything other than suicide, but Callender wonders why Mark left school to work as a gardener at the Meachems. Cordelia decides to stay in the cottage Mark was using when he worked for the Meachems.
She soon can't help wondering if it really was a suicide. There's a coffee mug on the table and a full pot of stew on the stove and most people drink their coffee after dinner, which suggests he had a visitor. He also left a small patch of work undone in his garden, with the pitchfork just standing there as if waiting for him to come back. When Cordelia goes to the police, they say they noticed the same things and suspected murder, but there was nothing to prove it. He just put it down to something odd that suicides sometimes do.
Cordelia goes to Cambridge to visit with Mark's friends, Hugo, Isobella, his girlfriend, and Sadie, his ex-girlfriend, and Sadie's new boyfriend, Davie. She can tell they are hiding something, but she doesn't quite know what. They claim to have an alibi for the evening: being at a theatrical performance. But when Cordelia checks, she finds that Isobelle was not there. What does she know and why are they protecting her?
Mark's mother's nanny gave him her prayer book on his twenty-first birthday, with the clue that both his parents were blood type A and Mark, being a B, is a son to only one of them, or neither of them. Mark's mother died when he was nine months old and Callender, obsessed with his work at his home labs, never remarried. Mark's mother's father was quite keen on there being a grandson to pass the family lineage down and left a trust for Mark for when he turned twenty-five. Callender, inherited his wife's estate when she died and tried to give Mark money during college, but Mark just kept sending it back.
Everyone describes Mark as being a kind and gentle person. No one noticed any depression or anything wrong with him. He was looking into the matter of who his parents might really be, but was probably unsuccessful.
Cordelia feels that she is getting close to finding the killer and one night while outside of the cottage, someone grabs her and throws her into the well and replaces the lid. Cordelia manages to climb out and is rescued by Mrs. Meechem. Now, Cordelia lies in wait for the killer to come back and finish the job so she can catch him. Its no surprise who tried to kill her, though, who might have killed Mark is very much a surprise. And the ending is quite surprising with Cordelia being called before James's famous Commander Adam Dalgliesh, for inquiries into what she has been up to and what has happened and she must find a way to lie to this clever man, so that he doesn't find out the truth and cause harm to others.
I have to confess I really liked Cordelia. She is very intelligent, even though she was forbidden to go to college by a father who abandoned her until she was sixteen and then made her take care of him as he traveled around Europe spouting his Communist prose that no one buys. She takes what Bernie has taught her, surprisingly, what he learned from Dalgliesh when he was a cop, and puts it to good use. She keeps her head and thinks quickly in any situation. Its sad that there is only one other book written about her by James.
With her bag at her feet she sat down by the body. She said a brief convent-taught prayer to the God she wasn’t sure existed for the soul which Bernie had never believed he possessed and waited quietly for the police.
--P.D. James (An Unsuitable Job For a Woman p 215)
Mavis reminded Cordelia of a librarian known to her in childhood who had secreted the new books under the counter in case they should be taken out and soiled.
-- P.D. James (An Unsuitable Job For a Woman p 218-9)
Perhaps it’s only when people are dead that we can safely show how much we cared about them. We know that it’s too late then for them to do anything about it.
-- P.D. James (An Unsuitable Job For a Woman p 246)
Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Unsuitable-Woman-Cordelia-Gray-Mysteries/dp/0743219554/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1477835833&sr=8-1&keywords=an+unsuitable+job+for+a+woman
…love was as destructive as hate.
-- P.D. James (An Unsuitable Job For a Woman p 412)