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Talking about detective fiction

by PD James

Publishers Weekly One of the most widely read and respected writers of detective fiction, James (The Private Patient) explores the genre's origins (focusing primarily on Britain) and its lasting appeal. James cites Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone, published in 1868, as the first detective novel and its hero, Sergeant Cuff, as one of the first literary examples of the professional detective (modeled after a real-life Scotland Yard inspector). As for Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, James argues that their staying power has as much to do with the gloomy London atmosphere, "the enveloping miasma of mystery and terror," as with the iconic sleuth. Devoting much of her time to writers in the Golden Age of British detective fiction (essentially between the two world wars), James dissects the work of four heavyweights: Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh. Though she's more appreciative of Marsh and Allingham (declaring them "novelists, not merely fabricators of ingenious puzzles"), James acknowledges not only the undeniable boost these women gave to the genre but their continuing appeal. For crime fiction fans, this master class from one of the leading practitioners of the art will be a real treat. 9 illus. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Book list In 2006, the Bodleian Library at Oxford University asked celebrated novelist P. D. James to write about British detective fiction. Had they requested this of James 20 or even 30 years ago, the result would have been much the same. James pontificates on detective fiction, primarily British but with an occasional nod to American writers, as if she has just emerged from the 1950s or1960s. Except for a reference to Sara Paretsky, which sticks out like a body in the library, this overview is decidedly old school. What makes her fairly conventional history worthwhile, however, is the personality of James herself. She talks about her own methods for coming up with ideas and for plotting. She talks about how Agatha Christie broke some of the most cherished rules of crime fiction. And the book is filled with quirky asides for example, James holds that the formation of a British police force in 1842 made detective fiction possible. It's like sitting across from James over tea, and that, naturally, is a delight.--Fletcher, Connie Copyright 2010 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.

Library Journal James, who lives and breathes detective fiction, tackles her genre in this examination of British detective fiction. It is important to note this is not literary criticism in the academic sense. James will introduce readers to lesser-known detectives from the past, such as two from the 1920s: H.C. Bailey's doctor Reggie Fortune and Gladys Mitchell's psychiatrist Dame Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley. Because of these types of discoveries, the volume has the potential to stimulate investigations beyond the text. James includes chapters on Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown; a brief nod to Americans Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler; and a discussion of four women writers: Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, and Ngaio Marsh. She is not afraid to share her opinion of writers' strengths and weaknesses, especially when the focus is on Christie. VERDICT Considering James's devoted following and her highly recognizable name, there is sure to be interest amongst fans and readers of detective fiction. The writing is entertaining, approachable, and interesting, and this makes it an appealing read for a wide audience.-Stacy Russo, Chapman Univ. Libs., Orange, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.