September 2001
Book Review
In The Skull Beneath the Skin, a mystery novel from 1982 re-issued in paperback by Warner Books in 1996, P. D. James writes once again about private detective Cordelia Gray, who had previously investigated a murder in An Unsuitable Job for a Woman.  Cordelia receives a visit from Sir George Ralston, a baronet whose wife is the famous actress Clarissa Lisle.  Clarissa has been receiving anonymous typewritten notes containing quotations from Shakespeare and other famous dramatists making reference to death.  Their menacing nature has unnerved her, occasionally ruining her performance on stage.  Clarissa is going to be the star of a production of The Duchess of Malfi that will take place in the small private theatre of a large house on an island off the English coast.  Sir George engages Cordelia to accompany Clarissa to the island, ostensibly as her secretary, to ensure that no anonymous notes come to Clarissa’s attention to mar her performance.  The reader expects, of course, that Clarissa will be murdered on the island.  Among possible perpetrators of such a crime on the island are her husband, her previous husband’s son, her financially strapped cousin, a dying theatre critic who was once her lover, her longtime servant, her host, and her host’s servants.

In this novel, P. D. James skillfully depicts each of the numerous characters as an individual, and the story moves along at an interesting pace, with suitable foreshadowing and suspense.  The premise of the story is not terribly original, a group of murder suspects in a large castle-like house on an isolated island, but P. D. James writes this sort of book so masterfully that one does not mind.  The book has moments of humor and of pathos.  I found the book quite absorbing and I read it eagerly in my spare time over the course of three days.

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Page List
The Skull Beneath the Skin
by P. D. James

Warner Books
The Skull Beneath the Skin is available from
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The Skull Beneath the Skin, paperback,