Sunday, January 17, 2010
Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James
P.D. James, one of the greats of modern mystery novels, give a concise history of the detective genre (mostly British) in this slim volume, and you can tell she knows her stuff, from Wilkie Collin's "The Moonstone" to contemporary crime fiction such as Ian Rankin's Rebus series. While others have written histories of mysteries, with James we get her viewpoint -- and she's certainly not shy about expressing her own opinions.
Of Agatha Christie, she writes that "perhaps her greatest strength was that she never overstepped the limits of her talent" -- but she's also generous to Christie, saying she produced mysteries of "extraordinarily imaginative cunning" and writing that Christie brilliantly broke the rules, as in "The Mousetrap" and "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd." Describing Golden Age mysteries, James writes that readers like them because "Whatever our secret terrors, we are not the body on the library floor. And in the end, by the grace of Poirot's little grey cells, all will be well -- except of course with the murderer, but he deserves all that's coming to him. All the mysteries will be explained, all the problems solved and peace and order will return to that mythical village which, despite its above-average homicide rate, never really loses its tranquillity or its innocence."
This is a fast read -- a couple of hours. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in British mysteries and definitely for fans of P.D. James.