Most reviewed: The Private Patient and The Birthday Present

<p>The two most reviewed books this week were by doyennes of crime fiction, with both attracting cautious praise from the critics.</p><p>P D James&#39; <em>The Private Patient</em> is her 14th Dalgleish novel. Marcel Berlins, writing in the <em>Times</em>, says: &quot;The quality is averagely excellent James, although not among her best three or four.&quot; He adds that she has &quot;lost none of her acuity, subtlety and inventiveness&quot;. </p><p>The <em>Sunday Times</em>&#39; Penny Perrick recognises James&#39; creation of &quot;an atmosphere of twitchy foreboding&quot; and says she &quot;brings a stinging clarity to the complicated goings-on in the Dorset countryside&quot;.</p><p>M John Harrison in the <em>Guardian </em>is less impressed: &quot;While we have the structure of a mystery, we don&#39;t have the surface.&quot; The <em>Daily Express</em>&#39; Jennifer Selway disagrees: &quot;Her delineation of character is surpassed only by her phenomenal ability to describe places, interiors, landscapes and cities.&quot; </p><p>Jake Kerridge in the <em>Daily Telegraph</em> has yet another interpretation: &quot;Full of the usual insight, although the characteris-ation and plotting are not up to her best standard.&quot; Kerridge&#39;s review of <em>The Birthday Present </em>by Barbara Vine, pen name of Ruth Rendell, is more positive, describing the author as &quot;at her most mischievous and entertaining&quot;, while Henry Sutton in the<em> Daily Mirror </em>comments on her &quot;consummate skill&quot;. Caroline Moore in the <em>Sunday Telegraph</em> concedes that <em>The Birthday Present</em> is a &quot;well constructed but, at first, deliberately uninvolving novel&quot;. The <em>Observer</em>&#39;s Peter Guttridge is equally measured: &quot;The period she is describing seems oddly like another age. Even so, a suspenseful and chilling tale.&quot;</p><p>Returning to the <em>Express&#39;</em> Jennifer Selway: &quot;Where James leads us towards majestic resolution, this prime Vine is more edgy and possibly more entertaining.&quot;</p>