Cover Her Face – P D James (1962) – A Murder They Wrote Review

pd james

How have I got to this ripe old age without having ever read P D James?  This is even more of an oversight when amongst my most-read authors you would find Ruth Rendell, Martina Cole and Agatha Christie.  I know how good Baroness James Of Holland Park (1920-2014) was and I always enjoyed watching and listening to her being interviewed and reading about her – but of her fiction, up to now I’ve not read a scrap.

Seeing as I like to read in chronological order I had to start with her very first novel, which introduced Adam Dalgleish dating right back to 1962.  It is a surprisingly traditional country house whodunnit with all the elements present from the golden age of crime fiction- a death in a locked room,  a social gathering which sees outsiders coming into the rarefied atmosphere of the house (in this case a garden fete), suspects both above and below stairs and a denouement where all of the possible killers are together for the unveiling by the lead sleuth, in this case, Detective Chief Inspector Adam Dalgleish.  Of him we learn very little on this outing (he has a boat for off-duty adventures) as it is the inhabitants of Martingale Manor who are this novel’s central focus.

1962 is quite late on in the day for a form of fiction that was at its peak a couple of decades earlier so it’s surprising that James was not offering anything new here, but what we do get is a plot which shows intelligence and a complete understanding of the genre. She paves the way with clues that I didn’t pick up on (I so rarely do) and has produced a novel which is well-written with involving characterisation which all adds to breathing some new life into a well-worn format.

There’s nothing that feels like cliché here and that is testament to James’ handling of the plot.  Some of the attitudes might seem old-fashioned but that is only to be expected.  I enjoyed reading this very much.

Cover Your Face was first published in 1962 by Faber and Faber.  I read a 2010 paperback.  The book is still in print.

6 thoughts on “Cover Her Face – P D James (1962) – A Murder They Wrote Review

  1. Monika McKay

    One of my favourite characters, the detective Dalglish…He was huge in Slovakia. (Roy Marsden). Never read any of her books. I was quite surprised he never made it bigger in Britain, but then again DON’T KNOW, if so popular here…during 80s.


    1. That’s interesting to know that he was Dalgliesh was huge in Slovakia. I think the tv adaptations were popular over here. I never saw them, probably because I wanted to read the books first………Many years later, I’ve read the first one!


  2. Kay Carter

    Goodness me Phil. Where have you been? 😀
    I read this year’s ago and I thought it was a really good read. The clues are not ‘in your face’ as so often happens.
    It is still on my shelf, so may be time for another read, even though Adam Dalgliesh was not a favourite if mine, her books were.
    Thank you for reminding me.xx


  3. Geoffrey Valentine

    You are right about James not being that original but she has a solid style, enabling her to construct a plot that satisfies most readers. I am surprised you missed the TV adaptations. They were even quite popular down here in NZ. Another excellent review, Phil.


    1. Absolutely agree! Early New Year’s Resolution alert – 2019 will be a year when I intend to read more PD James – I can’t be judging her on just this first book! (But then again 2019 will be a year when I’ll no doubt intend to catch up with loads more authors who I’ve only barely sampled up until now!! Thanks for the comment – good to hear from you!!

      Liked by 1 person

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