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The Private Patient

An Adam Dagliesh mystery

[amazon cover 0307270777]
By P. D. James
(Reviewed by Nancy Jelinek)

On her 47th birthday, Rhoda Gradwyn had an appointment with a plastic surgeon. The scar on her face had been there since childhood, a constant reminder of a broken bottle in the hands of her raging, drunken father. Mr. Chandler-Powell saw her in his Harley Street office. When asked by him why she had waited 34 years to do something about it, she enigmatically replied, “Because I no longer have need of it.”

A well-know journalist, Gradwyn insisted on having the surgery outside of London, at Chandler-Powell’s private clinic at Cheverell Manor. At his request, she visited the clinic for an overnight stay and returned a few days later for the surgery and, unknowingly, her death. James, as she does so well, draws the rest of the characters that will appear as the witnesses and/or suspects with strong, clear strokes and sets the scene for the arrival of Commander Adam Dalgliesh and his team.

Detective Inspector Kate Miskin and Sergeant Francis Benton-Smith are called to join Dalgliesh. Adam has had his first meeting with his future father-in-law interrupted by a summons from the Metropolitan Police. Beginning with the body and the pathologist, they move on to interviews with Chandler-Powell, his staff, others that live on the grounds, and the lone remaining patient, who’s anxious to leave. Their investigation becomes stymied. Although some connections to the dead woman turn up in the background checks of this somewhat isolated group, they don’t appear to point to a murderer. When a second murder occurs, Dalgliesh and his team must look even deeper, testing each suspect’s—and Rhoda Gradwyn’s—guilt or innocence in light of their past.
The Private Patient is P. D. James’ 14th Adam Dalgliesh mystery. While it is as complex as all of the books, it seems to me that there is closure here. Dalgliesh finally finds happiness in a personal relationship that began three books ago. Kate is due for a promotion, and the team expects to be disbanded, as there is talk of reorganization of the Met. While I hope there will be another book, whether it happens or not, and what form it might take, are mysteries.

Published February 4, 2009

Nancy Jelinek
Silver Planet Book Review Columnist

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