Friday, November 11, 2022

Talking about Detective Fiction: P. D. James

P. D. James (1920-2014) is best known for her series of novels about Adam Dalgleish, initially a Detective Chief Inspector, later a Commander, in the Metropolitan Police Service at New Scotland Yard in London. I have read all 14 novels in that series, and some of them twice. 

In 2006, the Bodleian Library requested that P.D. James write a book on British detective fiction in aid of the library. This book was the result of that endeavor. The book was only 198 pages long, thus there are many authors of detective fiction that are not included, but I found it an informative and enjoyable read.

Although the book centers on British novelists, James includes a chapter on the hard-boiled school of American detective fiction. The focus in that chapter is on Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, but she closes the chapter with her thoughts on Ross Macdonald and Sara Paretsky. 

This is followed by a chapter titled "Four Formidable Women," which compares and contrasts the works of Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, and Dorothy Sayers. I enjoyed her insights regarding those authors.

Another chapter I especially liked was "Telling the Story: Setting, Viewpoint, People." She talks about the technical aspects of writing, including references to the works of other authors and how she approaches writing mysteries.

I have only covered the high points from my perspective. There are chapters on other topics: Arthur Conan Doyle and G. K. Chesterton and Golden Age mysteries, for example.

Overall, I was very pleased with this book and sorry that I put off reading it for so long. 


Publisher: Vintage Books, 2011 (orig. pub. 2009)
Length: 198 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Genre:  Nonfiction, Mystery Reference
Source: On my TBR since 2017.


Cath said...

Ah yes, I've heard of this book so thanks for reminding me about it. I shall see if I can get a copy for reading in 2023. After all... it's P.D. James!

Judith said...

Hi Tracy,
I really loved this book. I tore through it when it was first published and appreciated especially the sections that discussed her writing process.

Mary R. said...

I read this in 2011 and I really enjoyed it.

Margot Kinberg said...

James was in such a good position to write a book like this, Tracy. She had a lot of insight, and her work reflects her knowledge of the genre. I'm glad you thought it was a good book.

TracyK said...

It is very good, Cath. I know you would enjoy it.

TracyK said...

Judith, I liked reading about her writing process and her opinions on plot and setting very much. I also appreciated the inclusion of the American hard-boiled writers and that their importance in the history of crime fiction should be acknowledged.

TracyK said...

Margot, I always enjoy reading books about books, and especially books about mystery books and authors. And yes, P.D. James is especially qualified to do it.

TracyK said...

Mary, I wish I had discovered it sooner. And read it sooner. I found some of her thoughts on mysteries enlightening.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Was not aware of this. Will look for it. THanks.

TracyK said...

It is definitely worth reading, Patti, and short and easy to break up into small portions.

Kathy's Corner said...

Hi TracyK, This book sounds really good for many reasons. First, I have read P.D. James and she is very talented and knows the craft of mystery writing. Also by reading this book I will learn about the great British mystery novels that I haven't heard about. I am going to check this book out because I see it as a great resource.

TracyK said...

Kathy, I agree, I think you will find this book a good resource and it is good reading too.