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Cover her face by P. D. James

Cover her face (original 1962; edition 1974)

by P. D. James

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2,160553,006 (3.6)141
Title:Cover her face
Authors:P. D. James
Info:London : Sphere, 1974.
Collections:Your library
Tags:Donna828, fiction, mystery, England

Work details

Cover Her Face by P. D. James (1962)

  1. 20
    A Judgement in Stone by Ruth Rendell (sarah-e)
    sarah-e: Similar atmosphere, but this one is a bit creepier and quite different in terms of plot.

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Can I remember a time when I didn’t know of the existence of Adam Dalgliesh? No. This, the first in PD James’s series about the thoughtful detective, was published in 1962. So it was an interesting exercise to re-read this novel when I am so familiar with the last books in the series. How to describe the style of PD James’s detective: detection by deduction and perception.
The Maxie family has a new parlourmaid, Sally Jupp, who is found dead in her bed. This is almost a ‘closed room’ mystery in that the murder takes place in a country house with a limited number of suspects. What is unclear is the real story of Sally, her background and how she became an unmarried mother. Is Sally a victim, or is she a manipulative young woman who twists situations and people to her advantage? And who feels most threatened by her? There are plenty of potential culprits and Dalgliesh’s summary at the end – leading up to the naming of the murderer – reminded me of Agatha Christie.
Any Dalgliesh fan will be curious to read about his first appearance. There is almost nothing inside his head here, something the later books do so well, showing us the thoughtful, tortured poet detective. Here, his character is still forming.
Read more of my book reviews @ http://www.sandradanby.com/ ( )
  Sandradan1 | Oct 31, 2015 |
I love the way she wrote about people, with compassion and careful distance that allows us to better see the characters, their strengths and weaknesses, their humanity.
( )
  InezGard | Sep 15, 2015 |
Where I got the book: Audiobook on Audible.

I thought it was about time I listened to the entire Adam Dalgleish series—I’ve read some of them but certainly none of the early ones. In this 1962 story you can see the tradition that goes back to the Golden Age of the detective story in the 1930s. All the clichés are there: the stately home, the nerve-ridden war hero, the lower classes kowtowing to the upper, the vicar a sort of go-between in terms of social status.

Except that it wasn’t, of course—James updated her stately home mystery to portray a society shaken by (another) War and by the social upheaval that followed it. The staff at Martingale is reduced to a sort of housekeeper, Martha, with no butler in sight to do the dirty deed. Martha is aided by a housemaid, Sally Jupp, an unmarried mother who seems to take lightly what would once have been a cause of shame. The lower classes are decidedly uppity, with their carefully tended council houses and a distinct touch of attitude toward their betters. The money is all gone, the master of the house is dying, and standards are always just a step away from slipping disastrously down the cliff face. And yet the Maxies struggle on, holding the village fête in their grounds, giving dinner parties and doing good wherever they can—such as taking in Sally and her child, whose father is unknown.

Manipulative Sally announces that she’s marrying into the Maxie family, but is found dead the next morning and the chief constable calls in the Yard, in the form of Dalgleish. We learn little about the detective, who comes across as rather two-dimensional, prone to saying “yes, we know all about that,” when a new clue is revealed (and if the police knew all about it, why wasn’t the reader informed, I’d like to know?) Dalgleish is admired by his sergeant and clearly thought a Sexy Beast by the family’s attractive widow, but I never really got a clear impression of what made him such a striking figure. I guess it took James a while to build him into the Sensitive Loner Dectective that sent readers’ hearts a-fluttering.

Two factors in particular made this story seem very dated to me. One was the omniscient narrator, popping happily into the suspects’ heads without warning and in a very erratic fashion, as if the writer occasionally became tired of doing the storytelling and handed the job over to someone else for five minutes. The other, alas, was the voice of audiobook narrator Penelope Dellaporta, which was standard BBC refined actress—I’ve become so unused to hearing this voice that its plumminess tends to get on my nerves. Furthermore, when I was listening to the audiobook without earbuds, there were odd popping noises as if people were playing ping-pong in the background. It didn’t happen when I put my earbuds in—very strange.

And, oh my goodness, every upper class character in the story was a resounding snob. Except, perhaps, the vicar, and vicars are, socially speaking, neither fish nor fowl. The descriptions of the lower orders’ houses were spectacularly condescending—was James playing to the sensibilities of her supposed readership, or was this how she actually thought? It seems almost impossible that English society was that hidebound just fiftysomething years ago.

The story wasn’t bad, apart from the tendency the characters had to explain their actions very carefully in chronological order, helpful if you’re the sort of mystery fan who loves the timetable aspect of investigation but not very realistic. There were some nice twists, and the whole thing culminated, very satisfactorily, with the great detective gathering all the suspects together in one room and methodically explaining what happened, with further twists in the tale being provided by timely interruptions. All very mechanical, really, but interesting—you can see the straight line going back to Dorothy L. Sayers and forward to the writer P.D. James would become in her later life. Development of the Mystery Story 101.

This methodical method of building up a story was a bit on the slow side, of course. But it’s a true portrait, I think, of a world that was being swept away even as P.D. James was writing. I’m looking forward to seeing her move into the 70s . . . although, of course, if I remember anything of the Dalgleish stories I read, she tended to adopt the closed-community scenario where people were sort of stranded in time. ( )
  JaneSteen | Aug 18, 2015 |
P.D. James
Cover Her Face

A not-so-innocent victim is murdered at the time when you hate him/her the most. A nucleus of suspects hem and haw exhaling fumes of guilt, while an intriguingly intelligent and potentially dashing police inspector sifts through just the right amount of evidence. The summation is arranged and dramatically delivered with excruciating suspense et voila, the murderer/ess is exposed. Sounds like every good mystery? The difference lies in the details. James, in her first book, provides wonderful interiors and a procession of realistically flawed characters, none of which could ever commit a murder, or could they?
Recommended January 2006
  dawsong | Jun 12, 2015 |
This was an old fashioned mystery. Kind of like Columbo. Didn't really guess who the murderer was. Found her writing to be good but not really my style. ( )
  bwhitner | Apr 4, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
P. D. Jamesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Latvala, PirjoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Exactly three months before the killing at Martingale Mrs. Maxie gave a dinner-party.
It's not that they sin less, but that they bear their sins more lightly.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743219570, Paperback)

Headstrong and beautiful, the young housemaid Sally Jupp is put rudely in her place, strangled in her bed behind a bolted door. Coolly brilliant policeman Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard must find her killer among a houseful of suspects, most of whom had very good reason to wish her ill.

Cover Her Face is P. D. James's electric debut novel, an ingeniously plotted mystery that immediately placed her among the masters of suspense.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:28 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

"When headstrong and beautiful housemaid Sally Jupp is found strangled in her bed behind a bolted door, Detective Chief-Inspector Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard must unmask her killer from a houseful of suspects--most of whom had very good reason to wish her ill. Each new clue he uncovers leads to a dramatic twist in this ingeniously plotted mystery"--Cover, p. 4.… (more)

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