Thursday, January 7, 2010

Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James

I used to be a mad inhaler of all British mystery novels. I loved Ruth Rendell, Peter Robinson, Ian Rankin, and P.D. James especially. For a couple of years now, though, I've really cut down on the amount of mysteries I read, but I will always read the latest P.D. James. The woman is a master of the genre and a wonderful writer. This latest non-fiction book by Baroness James is a short history and discussion of the detective novel that she wrote to raise funds for the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The first half of the book summarizes the history of detective writing (the first true detective novel: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins), and details the importance of the Golden Age of mysteries to the development of the genre. Her discussion of the four big female names of the Golden Age - Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayres, Margery Allingham, and Ngaio Marsh - is very enlightening and spurs me to want to read more about these ladies. The second half of the book discusses the elements of the detective novel including setting and viewpoint and the future of detective fiction. This half is not as strong as the first and it seems that James really enjoyed writing about the historical aspect of mysteries and didn't really care much for writing about the current state of the genre. However, she does provide some tidbits about her own writing and style that are interesting. For instance, she doesn't know how to use a computer and still writes all of her novels by hand. Despite the letdown of the second half of this book, I found it an engaging way to spend my time at the car dealership waiting for my oil to be changed. I don't think it will rekindle my love of reading mysteries, but it did provide some nostalgic reflection, 

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