From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In James's stellar 14th Adam Dalgliesh mystery (after 2006's The Lighthouse
), the charismatic police commander knows the case of Rhoda Gradwyn, a 47-year-old journalist murdered soon after undergoing the removal of an old disfiguring scar at a private plastic surgery clinic in Dorset, may be his last; James's readers will fervently hope it isn't. Dalgliesh probes the convoluted tangle of motives and hidden desires that swirl around the clinic, Cheverell Manor, and its grimly fascinating suspects in the death of Gradwyn, herself a stalker of minds driven by her lifelong passion for rooting out the truth people would prefer left unknown and then selling it for money. Beyond the book's central moral concern, James meditates on universal problems like aging (the amorphous flattening of self) and the government's education policy, which targets 50% of the young as university-bound while ensuring that another 40% are uneducated on leaving secondary school. Against her relentless intellectual view of our dying earth, James pits the love she finally grants Dalgleish—sufficient to reinvigorate hope and faith so rare in both fiction and reality today. (Nov.)
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Both P. D. James and Adam Dalgliesh, both in their 80s, have aged like fine wine. Critics agreed that if The Private Patient
, a closed-room mystery, is not among the best in the series, it nonetheless outranks most crime fiction. James brings her usual intellect to bear on this novel: literary references and philosophical discussions; an elegant, leisurely style; a highly atmospheric setting; suspicious distant relatives; and meaningful coincidences. Reviewers diverged, however, on the characterization and plotting. Some thought the characters were psychologically complex, while others thought they—along with the plot—were "reduced to a kind of box-ticking" (Guardian
). Finally, Dalgliesh didn't seem completely present—perhaps in anticipation of his imminent retirement and marriage.
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