Odd Saint: Cordelia Gray
April 12, 2009 Leave a comment
I just discovered PD James this week while doing my best to lie flat and keep my lungs in my chest (I caught one of the mutant colds of the season). Have you heard of PD James before? Apparently, she is a bestselling grand dame of mystery fiction. The book I picked up was An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, published in 1977 (which explains why characters are dressed in caftans and suede skirts). The detective here is a 22-year-old named Cordelia Gray, and she is charmingly regular. There is a bit of romance thrown into her background– –her mother died an hour after her birth, and her father is a rogue marxist poet– –but otherwise she is a level headed woman sufficiently working her way through a recognizable world. The book relies on formula a bit heavily at times, and is a reminder that while it might be literary to expand on things, a genre audience apreciates brevity. There are a few too many convenient car crashes and women walking into rooms wearing crimson dressing gowns for it to work as a breach of genre, or to inspire art. Yet, James’ style is wonderful, and her attention to Cordelia’s dimension is lovely.
She had never thought of virginity as other than a temporary and inconvenient state, part of the general insecurity and vulnerability of being young…it was intolerable to think that those strange gymnastics might one day become necessary. Lovemaking, she had decided, was overrated, not painful but surprising. The alienation between thought and action was so complete.
On finding the body of your boss dead:
Sitting beside the body to wait and feeling that she needed to make some gesture of pity and comfort Cordelia laid her hand gently on Bernie’s hair. Death had as yet no power to diminish these cold and nervelss cells and the hair felt roughly and unpleasantly alive like that of an animal. Quickly she took her hand away and tentatively touched the side of his forehead…the gesture was meaningless and irrelevant. There was no more communication in death than there had been in life.
I also have to note that James uses very few commmas.
I like Gray’s character because she does very normal things. For example, when a bowl of stew becomes evidence, instead of dealing with it, she puts it out in the shed with a tarp over it. She doesn’t scare easily, but she constantly regulates how susceptible she is to friendship and influence. She is good looking, but looks at the beautiful with distance. She is also mean to an old lady that saves her life.
This isn’t the best book, but it was a fine read for a sick day. I’d like to read some later James to see where this fine style has ended up.