Talking About Detective Fiction
by P.D. James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book makes a valuable, if somewhat incomplete, survey of the mystery genre. I think it's most suited to readers like me, who enjoy a good detective story, but don't have a particularly good sense of the genre's history and scope, and could use a little help finding more stories that they will enjoy. It's particularly ideal for readers who enjoy British mysteries, and particularly those of the "Golden Age" of detective fiction (roughly the period between the two world wars). James devotes a chapter to American hard-boiled detective fiction, and makes scattered mention here and there of contemporary novelists, but it's the works of Christie, Sayers, and their contemporaries that are really at the heart of this book. Serious mystery aficionados might enjoy the book as well, but I'm guessing that they wouldn't find much new information in it.
James is crisply opinionated in that way that articulate older British women can be. She covers a number of authors in a relatively brief space, and for the most part, is good at conveying their distinctive strengths and weaknesses, although once in a while you're merely left with the impression that she thinks someone is brilliant. I very much liked that she manages to be quite even-handed about the comparative strengths and weaknesses of British "Golden Age' fiction and the American hard-boiled novels.
There's surprisingly little in this book about James's own writing process - there's some, but I imagine a hardcore James fan would be eager to learn more. I'm not sure whether James is being modest, or if she doesn't like to analyze her own writing process, or if she simply didn't think it had a place in an overall survey of the genre.
The audiobook version of this is a delight to listen to, but in retrospect, I kind of wish I'd gotten the print edition, because I kept wanting to jot down authors and titles to look for, and that kind of thing is just much easier with print. View all my reviews >>