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69 of 72 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 17, 2007
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I actually found it her most enjoyable so far, Having now read them in order I was less than impressed with the first, enjoyed the second, but found this third mystery refreshing and utterly enjoyable. Dalgliesh takes a vacation, visiting his aunt whose neighbors are a variety of writers who are a hilarious collection of characters. When one of them turns up dead in a dinghy with his hands chopped off, Dalglieh becomes a reluctant participant in finding the killer among them. Witty and wonderfully written, it makes me anxious to buy the next book!
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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Curious that, with such an arresting opening as this book has (a handless corpse floating off the Suffolk coast), i should find it so difficult to get involved with. I think, more than anything, i found it a little tough to tell some of the characters apart at first. Once past that point, however, this became, like just about every other James, the best one she's written. One grows to enjoy the little community she has created, the petty spites and jealousies, the sniping back and forth between these largely unsuccessful (at least in terms of importance) writers, at the death of one of them. Even Dalgliesh, in Suffolk on holiday, so the death is not his case, has trouble in his relationship with the local Inspector in charge of the case, they are overtly polite, but there is tension between them; he cannot hold himself back from doing some investigation on his own, however, and is able to show that murder has been committed, though not prevent another. The actual revelation of method and motive are interesting and unusual, in that James makes use of the murderer's confession to show how it was done. Another classic James and Dalgliesh.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
In this third mystery by P.D. James our author skirts the line of getting a bit cute--a little too wry for comfort. Realizing that she set the bar very, very high with her first two books, Ms. James seems to have retreated somewhat from focus on the mystery itself. Instead, this work is focused upon Inspector Dalgliesh; who the reader will note is destined to become one of the most well-known characters of the genre. So, not only does Dalgliesh take a bit of a vacation--so does the author.

Nevertheless, the writing is profoundly good. Inspector Dalgliesh begins to take shape in this book--his skills are evident and one learns more of his background, his likes and his dislikes. Ms. James even takes pains to prune the character back a bit. Though the mystery itself didn't get five stars, the development of Dalgliesh will pay vast dividends in future works. Like the corporations that take a charge against earnings in order to invest for the future, Ms. James' detour in "Unnatural Causes" allows her to focus uniquely upon her protagonist with results fully expected to pay rich rewards in her future installments.
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46 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 2001
Format: Paperback
To my mind, any book of P.D. James is worth reading, but UNNATURAL CAUSES is simply not one of her best. Yes, the plot is fascinating, if a bit dependent on twists and turns that mean very little, indeed, to the solution of the murders.
Most interesting, as usual with James, is her development of complex characters. Unfortunately, as another reviewer pointed out, almost every one of these characters is, at best, unpleasant and since they are all writers or are connected with professional writers in some way, it seems James has a bit of a chip on her shoulder about her colleagues.
The last 20 pages contain a transcription of a taped confession which ties up all the loose plot knots, but does not, at all, let us in on the effects this confession has on any of the characters except for James' detective, Adam Dalgliesh. This is truly disappointing, especially for a writer who so carefully peoples her novels.
A small note: I do not consider myself a prude and perhaps it is mere political correctness on my part, but I found James' characters' negative comments about homosexuals and one physically challenged character to be in poor taste.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on November 7, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Sooner or later it happens to many writers (and filmakers, too): the urge to turn the creative gaze back in on itself. Fortunately for us murder mystery afficianados, P D James got this out of her system early, here in Unnatural Causes.
The corpse around which this book's fantastically convoluted plot turns is a murdered murder mystery writer. Every character on the scene is a writer of some sort or another, much of Dalgleish's detecting involves scraps of manuscript and analysis of typing styles -- and after a while, the self-referential nature of all this is likely to leave even the staunchest P D James fan a bit cold. In addition, the story's climax is melodramatic, and its subsequent denouement clumsily-presented and unlikely -- i.e. they resemble typical murder mysteries, but do not meet James's usual elegant standard.
Unnatural Causes is therefore not recommended for the casual reader interested in sampling Lady James's generally superlative work; Devices and Desires and A Taste for Death, her two best, are really the places to start.
Nevertheless, for experienced P D James readers, Unnatural Causes does hold interest. The character of Dalgleish is here 'fully-formed', and the bleak descriptions of the Suffolk coast presage the even better evocations of England's eastern shores in several of her later novels. And, as always, Lady James's use of the English language stands head and shoulders above her peers. It's true real people rarely talk in the elegant sentences her characters spout at all turns, but the sheer joy of her style more than compensates for her lack of versimilitude.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 11, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is my absolute favorite of the Dalgliesh novels. The balance between exploring characters and expounding plot is just about perfect. The reader really feels for Dalgliesh as he struggles to decide about marrying Deborah Riscoe, and the murder than intrudes on his vacation is both horrible and intruiging. Finally, as an added bonus, in this book we at last get to read a bit of Dalgliesh's poetry: ten beautifully intricate lines addressed to Deborah. If you like and are interested in the character of Dalgliesh, you must own this book, because you will want to read it again and again.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
The author P.D. James is my favorite mystery writer and I have over many years read her books. May have to start over with some of the earlier ones with plots I've forgotten. Many of this author's books have been on TV also. I'm a fan of writers from England, Scotland and Ireland.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I love P. D. James books and read them over and over. This one sets a completely new scene and Dalgliesh is without his usual department and working with a somewhat reluctant local inspector. Nice change of situation.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2012
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I have several hard-copy P.D. James books and I really enjoy this author's writing. There is always a surprise which never disappoints.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
P.D. James is the grand doyen of the classic British murder mystery novel! I am currently reading through her entire corpus of works finding them beautifully written, cleverly constructed and providing hours of reading enjoyment!
Unnatural Causes was first published in 1967. The book does not seem dated other than the facts that typewriters are used instead of computer screens and carbon copies were still a part of the writer's landscape.
The book opens with the horrible scene of a terrible murder. The victim is Maurice Seton. Seton's two hands have been chopped off as the rest of his decaying corpse lies in a small dinghy off the coast of Sussex. Seton was a minor detective fiction author who had acquired a bad reputation in the small communiy of Monksmere. Many authors live in the immediate vicinity. His wife is thought to have committed suicide; he had been accused of murdering a beautiful cat named Arabella. Dalgliesh is in the area to visit his spinster aunt Jane Dalgliesh. Inspector Reckless and the brilliant Dalgliesh find this case to be as twisted as a pretzel. There are several characters whose movements on the night of the murder focus the reader's attention on their whereabouts.
A fine book for a cozy night before afireplace with Mozart playing on the Bose radio and a delicious snack next to the chair1 Enjoy this short but brilliant work by a master of the genre!
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