Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Talking About Detective Fiction

Talking About Detective Fiction
by P. D. James
Knopf, 2009. 198 pgs. Nonfiction

Mystery writer P. D. James takes on the whole genre in this fascinating little book about the origins and development of the detective novel. Beginning with Wilkie Collins (The Moonstone) and Edgar Allan Poe (C. Auguste Dupin stories) James takes us through Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie, through the "Golden Age" of detective fiction between the World Wars, through the various manifestations of the peculiar genius of the British for this genre, and into America's hard-boiled and psychological thrillers. James, now in her ninetieth year, writes from an extraordinary depth and breadth of knowledge, and with a piercing intelligence, about the deep, even archetypal, satisfactions of a story which goes from order, to a terrible disorder, to order again. She explains which writers are good at what and why: Arthur Conan Doyle, character; Agatha Christie, plot; Dorothy Sayers, the puzzle itself . . . and so on. James discusses her own use of setting in the Adam Dalgleish novels and the whole book is written in such enviably elegant prose one wants to go back and read everything James every wrote, along with all the terrific titles she discusses. If you love a good mystery novel, you will love this book. If you don't love a good mystery novel, read this book and you will. Either way we'll get you. Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

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