Innocent Blood (novel)

Innocent Blood (1980) is an English mystery novel by P. D. James. It follows a young woman named Philippa Palfrey in her quest to discover more about her biological parents and the crimes in their past.

Plot summary

A young woman, Philippa Palfrey, finds out that her father and mother are actually her adoptive parents. Her adoptive father, Maurice, is a university lecturer and television personality. He is also a spokesperson for the Young Socialists party and a writer of textbooks on sociology. Philippa's adoptive mother, Hilda, is a magistrate with a local juvenile court and an amateur cook. At the age of 8 years old, Philippa suppresses memories of her biological parents and in the intervening years, creates an idealised version of her parents. Upon learning of her biological parents, Philippa conducts a rudimentary investigation of her biological parents and discovers the truth of the crime: her biological parents were convicted ten years ago for the rape and murder of a young girl, Julie Scase, which caused her to be put up for foster care and eventual adoption by the Palfreys. She discovers her father died in prison a few years after the conviction and her birth mother is still alive, due to be released after 10 years in an English women's prison. She returns home after the discovery and confronts Hilda, who is shocked and dismayed to learn the adoption order was unsealed. It is after a strained dinner party with three guests where Philippa places her adoptive family in a position where the elder Palfreys have a contentious argument with Philippa. When her mother, Mary Ducton, is released from prison, Philippa looks her up, decides to live with her in a small flat in London and try to recreate the mother-daughter relationship. They rent a small flat in Central London and have a menial job at a fish and chip shop to supplement Philippa's meagre savings.

Mary Ducton provides Philippa with an account of the murder/rape and a bit of background information on the rapist, Martin. It is revealed later that the account was written recently, presumably for Philippa's benefit.

Norman Scase, the father of the murder victim, has sworn vengeance and prepares to track down Mary and kill her as had been the dying wish of Julie's mother and Scase's wife. With the help of a private investigator, Norman Scase discovers the date and time of the murderess's release from her prison in York and follows her and Philippa back to London. He loses them in the London underground and therefore undertakes a surveillance of the Palfrey residence, in the hope that one of her adoptive parents will lead him to Philippa and thus to the woman he intends to kill.

The novel reaches its climactic ending when Scase breaks into the flat only to find that Mary Ducton has already committed suicide. He nonetheless stabs her already dead body. Philippa orders him out and she takes the blame for the stabbing. She then rings Maurice, who arrives quickly on the scene, calls the police and at the same time ensures that Philippa is not charged with any crime or misdemeanour. In an epilogue chapter Philippa meets Norman Scase after a service in the chapel of King's College, Cambridge, where she is a student. It emerges that she has published a book under her new name, Philippa Ducton, and also that Norman has found love with Violet, the blind helper at the hotel where he stayed when he was spying on Philippa's adoptive mother.

Literary significance and criticism

"P. D. James chose to write a novel in which crime might figure but would not be the mainspring of the action. The work is a great success -- with the public and with the connoisseurs. ... The diverse characters are admirably drawn and the author's fingerwork in tying and untying threads is as deft as her touches of sordid life and as nimble as her prose."[1]


  1. Barzun, Jacques and Taylor, Wendell Hertig. A Catalogue of Crime. New York: Harper & Row. 1971, revised and enlarged edition 1989. ISBN 0-06-015796-8
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