P. D. James: Innocent Blood

Innocent_BloodNew year, new commitment to finishing my CWA top 100 challenge, and so on to the final P. D. James title on the list, Innocent Blood.

I’ve been pretty frank in my opinions about P. D. James in previous reviews – the overwhelming upper-middle-classness of her characters, the fact that everyone thinks and speaks in the same cultured voice and likes poetry. No problem with liking poetry, but honestly there are many people who simply don’t even notice it. Anyway, Innocent Blood has the same flaws, but much against my will I very much liked it.

If I had to put my finger on why, I think it is because it comes across more like a Ruth Rendell novel. Darkness, obsession, shabby accommodation, nobody very nice, and cruel twists of fate.

Girl Guide Julie Scase was murdered by a husband and wife – he sexually assaulted the girl; she killed her.

Ten years later the wife, Mary Ducton, is released from prison. Norman Scase, Julie’s father, leaves his job as a local government accounts clerk, sells his house, and buys a raincoat and a kitchen knife. He promised his wife something on her deathbed and he needs to see it through.

‘I have to retire early because there is something I must do in the next few months, a task which will take a great deal of time and planning. I have to find and kill the murderess of my child.’

Outwardly boring and conformist, Norman has a history of juvenile delinquency including shop-lifting and picking pockets which is a great help in hunting down his prey.

Meanwhile, an incredibly unsympathetic educated girl called Philippa Palfrey is on a path which will lead her to Mary Ducton and then, inevitably, to Norman.

Philippa is full-on P. D. James. Here she is tasting some wine on her seventeenth birthday:

‘…with this one I can’t distinguish taste from smell and from the feel of it in my mouth. They aren’t separate sensations, it’s a trinity of pleasure.’

Anyway, she is something of a steamroller, getting her own way and damn the rest of you – it says something that Norman Scase, sitting 24/7 in a cheap hotel room watching for Mary Ducton, is the sympathetic character.

A motif running through the book is the interaction between people and the state, represented largely by social workers. We see them mainly through Philippa’s rather self-consciously superior eyes (her father is a champagne socialist), as adversaries or at least obstacles in the path of her ambitions, but I think they come out of the book rather well on balance.


In Innocent Blood James wove together compelling narratives, some extremely gritty themes, and also paints a vivid picture of London in the late 70s. It’s probably the only one of her books which I would actively recommend.




Innocent Blood
P. D. James
First published by Faber and Faber Limited, 1980
ISBN 9780571248643
352 pages in print

See also

Stargazerpuj’s Book BlogOne of P. D. James’ best known novels, this is worth a read. This is not a super quick read, though, and less patient readers might not care to wade through the detailed storytelling that James is well known for.

About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
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6 Responses to P. D. James: Innocent Blood

  1. Most of the poetry James used in her books came from Auden . . .
    I agree hers are filled with what we would call the upper crust, but I liked the way she delves into the personalities of each character, and they often are sometimes unsympathetic. But I freely admit I am highly biased in towards her~


  2. realthog says:

    I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who feels like this about James’s work. I do steel myself to read one every now and then, though, just in case a door suddenly opens and I discover what I’ve been missing. It sounds from what you say as if I should make this the next one I try.


  3. I’ve always felt a bit heretical for not liking James…so glad to have some fellow travellers. Don’t think I’ve read this one so may give it a go as I always want to like her stuff 🙂


  4. Jose Ignacio says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed this one Rich. I think I’ve read this one quite some time ago, but I can’t find it on my shelves, but I would like to read it again thanks to your review.


  5. carol M says:

    This was one of James’ earlier works – I read it years ago – and, while it drips with upper middle class attitudes as you say, I felt it wasn’t as extreme as some of her later books. I quite enjoyed James in the early days but the later books left me cold and I had to give her up. I believe she was somewhat dismissive of the Golden Age female writers which was a little ironic as their influence can be seen clearly in her own work – surely Adam Dalgleish is the grandson of Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I did not like this book, and yet I do remember it well. Oh how I disliked Philippa….

    Liked by 1 person

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