I read "An Unsuitable Job for a Woman" by P.D. James recently. This novel was published in 1972 and was the first in her Cordelia Gray series, which followed her Adam Dalgliesh series.
Dalgliesh is a seasoned police detective and superintendent, while Gray is a young, inexperienced private detective, who in "An Unsuitable Job" has just taken over the agency where she worked after the suicide of her mentor and boss.
James is much freer with this sort of protagonist to put her in dangerous, unpredictable situations. Dalgliesh is smart and careful, and he has the whole police apparatus supporting him. Gray is out on her own, winging it, and her improvisations are exciting and fascinating.
I haven't been a big fan of English mystery writers, but I'm beginning to appreciate their expertise in creating beautifully realized worlds. Gray's exploits are rougher than is usual from English detectives, and that makes her more appealing to American readers like me.
James is a masterful writer — lively and precise and so good that you rarely are aware of her style. As a reader, you inhabit the skin and the sensibilities of Cordelia Gray, realize secrets as she realizes them and panic as she panics, and the experience is thrilling.
Will Doolittle is projects editor at The Post-Star. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on his blog, I think not, and on Twitter at