An Unsuitable Job for a Woman

Author: P.D. Jamesunsuitable
Publisher: Scribner
Date: 1972
Genre: Mystery
ISBN: 9780743219556
Price: $16.00
Number of Pages: 250
Available Formats: Hardback, Paper back, E-book, Audio

Rating: 3Q, 2P

Links to Author’s Website and Interviews

Links to Reviews

Reader’s Annotation

They say detective work is unsuitable for a woman, but Cordelia Gray won’t stop until she proves them wrong.

Plot Summary

The story opens with Cordelia Gray, a new private detective who has just been made partner with her friend’s P.I. business. As she walks into the office, she finds her friend/partner dead. She finds a note saying that he killed himself because he found out he had terminal cancer. She finds that he left her the business and his home and, despite other misgivings, she decides to keep the business open. After the funeral, things are looking pretty grim, financially, when a woman comes in looking for a PI. It turns out she works for a rich man who wants to find out why his son, a college student, killed himself. Cordelia takes the case and soon realizes that the suicide is not what it seems.

Critical Evaluation

I have very mixed feelings about this novel. While I enjoyed the beautiful prose, there were times that the leisurely pace began to get on my nerves. This book takes a very long time to get to the point which, at times, was very frustrating because I was interested in the mystery. I think the fact that I felt like there was such a disconnect with the pacing of the story was that it’s just so old fashioned and is nothing like what is currently being published in the mystery genre. I did, however, like the character of Cordelia Gray. I enjoyed how involved she got with the case, both emotionally and intellectually. I thought her connection with the victim was a really interesting theme and made sense in the context of the novel. I also really liked how the book kept me guessing until the end.

This is one of the books I tried listening to the audio version. I really wasn’t a fan of the narrator’s voice. I found it very grating and after an hour of listening I threw the towel in and just read the book.

Appeal Factors

Leisurely paced, intricately plotted, character-driven


Light of the World by James Lee Burke

A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George

Awards & Lists

1973 Best Novel Award, Mystery Writers of America (runner-up): An Unsuitable Job for a Woman

Discussion Ideas

  • Discussion of women detectives in the genre and how Cordelia Gray fits in.
  • Discussion of the progression of mystery as a genre in terms of writing style.
  • Discussion of Cordelia’s attachment to Mark.

Justification of Selection

I read this book because it was the selection for the mystery group, but I’m glad I did. Even though I’m not a huge mystery reader, I enjoyed seeing the genre from a different perspective. This book is completely different from what is being published today and in a way felt like a breath of fresh air.


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