BBC Radio 4, 24 May - 4 June 2010
This version of P. D. James' novel, first published in 2008, opened with
a magnificent sentence delivered by narrator (Carolyn Pickles): "On November 21st, the day of her forty-seventh birthday,
Rhoda Gradwyn went to Harley Street to keep an appointment with her plastic surgeon." Rhoda (Christine Kavanagh) asks her
surgeon George Chandler-Powell (Jonathan Keeble) to remove a prominent and ugly facial scar that her father had inflicted
upon her while she was a child. However we are immediately presented with a question: why did she take such a long time to
have it removed? Her only comment is "Because I have no need of it."
Eventually Rhoda meets a grisly end at a gloomy historic manor house in Dorset, which
Chandler-Powell has had converted into into an expensive private clinic. The surgeon seems pretty satisfied with the work
he has done; and views her demise with some disgust as being bad for his future business.
Enter Adam Dalgleish (Richard Dennington), assisted in this case by Det. Insp.
Kate Miskin (Deborah McAndrew), a feisty, working-class girl, and the Anglo-Indian Det. Sgt. Francis Benton-Smith (Johndeep
More), who discover some unpleasant things about Rhoda's life. As a former investigative journalist, she made many enemies;
but who would have known about her decision to enter Chandler-Powell's sanatorium? Or is her death part of a larger plot,
designed to ruin the surgeon's reputation? Various members of staff come under scrutiny, as well as other guests.
Another murder causes further confusion.
What sets P. D. James apart from her contemporaries is the way she writes, in an
elegant style that nonetheless remains convincing throughout. She is particularly good at creating an atmospheric setting
for the crimes to take place. All these qualities emerge in Neville Teller's compelling adaptation; the action moves swiftly
from incident to incident as the case weaves its convoluted path towards the resolution. At the same time we come to
rely upon Dalgleish to solve the case for us; in Dennington's performance he comes across as a polite yet determined officer,
dedicated to his job yet sustaining his sang-froid throughout, despite the best efforts of the sanatorium
guests and staff to provoke him.
This adaptation proves beyond all measure that the 88-year-old P. D. James is still
the most literary of British crime writers.