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Books

Flesh and Blood: Elder in love

If you love mysteries, read Flesh and Blood. The ending is an absolute stunner.

The author, John Harvey, is probably better known for his Charlie Resnick novels. But here the detective is Frank Elder. Divorced and retired from the police force, he follows up an old case when one of the two men convicted is released from prison.

Shane Donald, convicted for the rape and murder of a young girl, was also questioned about another missing girl, Susan Blacklock. But Shane denied having anything to do with her.

Elder decides to look into the case again when Shane is released. And the fallout is totally unexpected.

The stunning ending really drives home the unpredictability of the human heart. Here is a girl whose father left her mother when she was a baby and yet…

Flesh and Blood well and truly lives up to its title with moving descriptions of human relationships.

Digging up the family history, Elder is drawn to Susan's mother, Helen. Living alone with her daughter's memories, she responds.

She invites him to dinner and, before they know it, they are making love. Two lonely people suddenly drawn together.

Harvey has written a memorable love scene. You can feel the intensity and awkwardness of two middle-aged loners trying to cover up their embarrassment with gentle humour:

Categories
Books

PD James’ leisurely murder mystery

The Private Patient by PD James

This is an Adam Dalgliesh mystery where the Scotland Yard detective enters
late into the story. And even then Commander Dalgliesh hardly occupies
centrestage. The focus keeps shifting from one character to another. His
subordinates, Kate Miskin and Francis Benton-Smith, duly get their turn in the
spotlight as do several others in this country house mystery. There is an
eminent cosmetic surgeon, a successful woman journalist who is murdered in his private hospital after surgery, and others in the country estate where he operates on wealthy patients.

Even after Dalgliesh takes up the case, there is another murder. His
investigation turns up a convicted murderer in the house halfway into the story,
but this being a murder mystery, the killer here has to be somebody else.

PD James like Agatha Christie likes to depict her characters at length. And
the characters here are more interesting than the mystery itself. The Private
Patient is not a taut, suspenseful thriller. It is as much a novel of
manners, depicting the mores and lifestyle of  upper and upper middle class
people, though it does look at people lower down the social scale and their
problems, for let no one say PD James is not socially aware. That slows down the
narrative, however. It's not chatty and breezy like Agatha Christie. PD James is more meditative, commenting on life and society. She has written
more riveting mysteries in the past.

PD James unfortunately writes in a manner that makes one suspect here is a
superior woman. The leading characters tend to have stiff upper lips, the
cuisine is never fish and chips, any depiction of love is more likely to be
spiritual than physical, the music classical. It’s a bit claustrophobic.

And there’s this focus on successful people. Dalgliesh is a top detective and
a poet – though no poetry appears in this novel. The surgeon and the murdered
woman journalist are rich and successful. When Dalgliesh’s prospective
father-in-law is briefly introduced in this novel, he is described as a retired
university professor who has “done very well”. 

It may be because of the life she – PD James – has known. A former civil
servant who served as a governor of the BBC and was made a life peer, she
has won many prizes and honours. Is that why she writes about successful people,
because she knows them intimately, or is it because she is an overachiever by
nature? Her brief biography in The Private Patient mentions the girls’ school
she attended and says she has received honorary degrees from seven British
universities. And the OBE. What else remains to be accomplished?

Now 88 years old, PD James can still write a bestseller. Her fans won’t rest
until they have finished reading The Private Patient, and it is a good read. The
women in this story are portrayed sensitively, in depth if not always at length.
It is they who make it memorable though it is an Adam Dalgliesh mystery. The book ends happily on a romantic note: the right woman gets the
right man. It may have been written with women readers in mind.