Adam Dalgliesh fans will feel wonderfully rewarded by a deep and long look at his work in diligently investigating this case while attempting to balance his life to leave room for his love of Emma Lavenham. You'll end the book wondering about how that balance might change in future books. These thoughts in many ways make for a better mystery than solving the murder.
The Private Patient is more about love, its effects, and the harm it costs to not receive and give it . . . than about crime, detection, or justice. As with The Lighthouse, Baroness James has created deeply etched new characters while turning her on-going characters into ever-more real seeming personalities.
While many novelists are only too quick to paint a victim as harmless or harmful and bump them off, Baroness James gives us a complex portrait of a woman, investigative journalist Rhoda Gradwyn, whose youth scarred both her face and her psyche. As a result, she uses her slashed face as a mask to hide behind . . . and to keep people away on her own terms. She becomes good at ferreting out the secrets of others and displaying those hidden scars for a large pay day.
With the death of her abusive father and her mother's plan to remarry, Gradwyn realizes she doesn't need the scar any more and seeks one of the most expensive and highly regarded plastic surgeons, George Chandler-Powell, to repair her face. But she decides that there might be stories involved, and her meddling brings forth counter forces that lead to her death.
Strangled in her patient suite, steps from the nurse's bedroom, it begins to appear that an insider is involved. But no one remembers meeting Gradwyn before. What's the motive?
AD is dispatched to work on the case shortly after a call comes from number ten. Why is this case so important?
The murderer wore gloves so forensic clues aren't going to solve this case. Carefully examining opportunity and motive should narrow down the list of suspects. But more events occur faster than AD can untangle the clues he uncovers. As a result, the book is more of a crime story accompanied by a police procedural where the detective trails the killer too slowly rather than a classic mystery in which the brilliant detective solves everything by pulling a rabbit out of the hat.
The story is a gripping one involving lots of memorable characters, sympathetic and unsympathetic motives, and damaged personalities ill equipped to deal with human stress and conflict. To me, the best crime and mystery books are as well developed and interesting as a well-written novel . . . independent of the mystery. By that standard, this is an excellent book.
I found it annoying to have the police investigation be so ineffectual. It made the book seem a bit pointless in a way. I graded the book down one star to express by disappointment in this regard.
You, however, may not mind . . . in which case this will be a clear winner for you.