Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James

2. Talking About Detective Fiction
by P.D. James
nonfiction, 2009
finished, 1/4/10

In her introduction to the book, P.D. James says:
I hope that the many references to my own methods of working won't be seen as hubris; they are an attempt to answer some of the questions most frequently asked by my readers...
These 'references' were, for me, the most wonderful part of this book. I just loved reading:

I have used setting in this way to enhance danger and terror by contrast in a number of my novels. In A Taste for Death the two bodies, each with its head almost severed, are discovered in a church vestry by a gentle spinster and the young truant she has befriended. The contrast between the sanctity of the setting and the brutality of the murders intensifies the horror and can produce in the reader a disorientating unease, a sense that the ordained order has been overturned and we no longer stand on firm ground.

There are details of A Taste for Death, read so long ago, that suddenly pop up in my thoughts. This shows me the power of her writing; her absolute mastery at creating a scene, a sensation that remains ever memorable.

James doesn't try to cover all detective fiction. A few of the chapter titles are:

The Tenant of 221B Baker Street and the Parish Priest from Cobhole in Essex

The Golden Age

Soft-Centered and Hard-Boiled

Four Formidable Women

This little gem of a book is perfect. It is personal and conversational as if the reader is sitting in a lovely little bookstore with the author.

Tom gave me Talking About Detective Fiction for Christmas after hearing this report on National Public Radio. It is wonderful to hear her voice, and the piece will give you a good flavor of what the book is all about. I just loved it.


  1. I've just read it and I loved it, too, Nan!
    To think Baroness James will be 90 this year - she puts people half her age in the shade - she has such a quick, keen intelligence, and she can be very funny (I once went to a talk she gave). More power to her!

  2. I loved this book! James reminded me of many authors who I need to reread. She really interested me in getting back into the classic age of detective fiction. I swooned when she quoted Robert Browning. What a wonderful book it is!

  3. Thanks so much for stopping in and leaving a note, Cornflower and slr - glad you loved the book too. She is a wonder to me. Her writing was so clear, so precise, and so interesting.

  4. This is one author that I can't wait to get to. This one sounds great!

  5. Excellent post...this is an author that is on my list to read for the first time this year!

  6. Diane and Staci, you have great reading pleasures ahead!

  7. I enjoyed the post and the radio interview. I've read a few of her books but it's been many years ago. I need to get back to her and this was a great reminder.

  8. I scratched this onto my book list (or library list) after hearing James on my morning NPR program. It was wonderful basking in her voice.

    Thanks for reminding me that I haven't read this YET.

    Happy reading,

    Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

  9. Margot and Sharon, it is a book worth buying (rather than borrowing) if you are a mystery reader. It would be fun to, for example , read something by Dorothy L. Sayers, and then go see what P.D. James had to say about her work. I'm sure I'll use it often. A wonderful book.

  10. I keep coming across this book as I browse..I think I'll have to chase it down now.
    and thanks too for the interview lovely!!!

    I have an older book called the
    The Puritan Pleasures of the Detective Story: A Personal Monograph
    by Erik Routley
    (isbn 9780575013841)

    That's a great source for new (to me!.. it was published in 1972!) crime/mystery reads

  11. I picture Erik Routley reading detective novels between writing sermons or other church work ...more about him here
    and here
    His book is a very readable appreciation of the art!(sorry for sidetracking!)

  12. gosh Nan... it'll look like I'm spamming you but there is a summery of the contents of his book here
    now it's 7.01 am so I better wake the girls and make pancakes :)

  13. I have never read P D James but you have inspired me.

  14. Val, thanks so much for the info. I'll check it out. I love sources.

    Cait, she's very, very good.

  15. Nan, I love your blog. Every time I visit I end up adding books and books to my list of what I plan to read. Thank you for being such a wonderful "what to read next" resource and delightful writer in your own right.

    Your header is lovely, too. Can't wait to see the one for February.

  16. Oh my gosh, Clair, thank you so very much! I wish there were more of those WPA posters for the months but this is the only one I've come across.

  17. I've found two for september, one for October and one for March (I think) try here nan
    well that delayed the washing up for a while lol

  18. It's a very readable book. And as Val says, Erik Routley's very different survey is also well worth a look. My favourite book about crime fiction is Bloody Murder by Julian Symons - quite brilliant.

  19. Val, thanks so much! As I wrote, I hadn't 'come upon' any others, but duh, I should have just gone to this page and looked around. :<) Thank you again. You may end up seeing other posters up on the ol' blog.

    Martin, thanks for the Symons book suggestion.


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