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Talking About Detective Fiction

30 review for Talking About Detective Fiction

  1. 4 out of 5

    Brina

    Always up for a challenge, I took on an A-Z author challenge this year. For my J selection, I chose long time mystery writer P.D. James. Toward the end of her life, James penned an extended essay about the history of detective and mystery writing, mainly set in her native England but including a select few American detective writers as well. I found the essays to be informative, as James, through her expertise, relayed how modern mystery writing became to be. The first prerequisite for a detectiv Always up for a challenge, I took on an A-Z author challenge this year. For my J selection, I chose long time mystery writer P.D. James. Toward the end of her life, James penned an extended essay about the history of detective and mystery writing, mainly set in her native England but including a select few American detective writers as well. I found the essays to be informative, as James, through her expertise, relayed how modern mystery writing became to be. The first prerequisite for a detective story is that a society has to be modern enough to necessitate a police force and other law enforcement agencies. James cites Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone as the first modern detective story. Pulled from real life events, Collins penned a story that had readers at the edge of their seats as they desired to know whodunit. And the modern mystery was born. Yet, James did not spend much time discussing Collins, even though he gave way to modern mystery writing. She did not even give that much ink to Arthur Conan Doyle although she did fault sidekick Watson for being slightly addle brained. Much to the author's relief, modern detective writers eventually let the sidekick fall by the wayside. Rather than discussing the precursors at length, the meat of James essays focused on the Golden Age of mystery writing. Between the two world wars in England, a so called Golden Age of mystery writing emerged. James bestows much credit to her career as a mystery writer on four women who paved the way for her: Dorothy Sayers, Marjory Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, and, of course, Agatha Christie. Each woman had distinct style, but James preferred the intellectualism of Sayers and later Allingham to Christie's puzzle. Even though Dame Christie brought the world detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple and had her readers use their little gray cells, James is critical in saying that Christie's cases are repetitive to the point of being clichéd. As a writer, James herself attempted to create new scenes and settings, and despite lauding Christie's success, did not enjoy reading case after case set in the same quaint village. Yet, readers enjoy reading about Miss Jane Marple in St Mary Mead even if these murder cases aren't realistic. Combine that with the success of Christie's books on film, including the ever popular Murder on the Orient Express, Christie is still widely read today. Although the majority of this essay emphasizes English detectives, James gives a section to American hard boiled crime, citing Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett as the two writers responsible for modernizing American detective and mystery writing. James respects Chandler more as writer, citing that he was partially educated in England. These two writers eventually gave way to generations of modern mystery writers. Today, James says, that the modern writer, herself included, tend to write a series about one detective. Readers get attached to the private investigator and his/her private life away from detecting. She states that the modern writer who has been most successful with this formula has been Sara Paretsky and her long running V.I. Warshawski series. As a fan of this series, I can see how the emotional tug has factored into writing a series rather than stand alone stores. Being invested in a character has the reader coming back for each case even if not all the stories in the series are as stellar as the original. This, James claims, is the current state of detective and mystery writing today. I found Talking About Detective Fiction to be informative as P.D. James walked her readers through the history of detective writing. A lot of this information, especially the early chapters, was new to me so I enjoyed hearing about the trailblazers. Yet, this slim volume was too short to delve into all that much information about any one subject, and James includes a bibliography for further reading. Although a little critical of my favorite writer Agatha Christie, I found P.D. James essay to be a worthwhile read and rate this extended essay on the history of detective writing 3.5 stars.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    Rating: 4* of five It's a wise idea to consult the masters of a genre that you want to enter prior to making a foray into it. I though this was going to be more of a how-to than it was; it's still valuable for a tyro to read the high-level musings of a practitioner of the art of detective fiction. Not terribly useful as a how-to writing guide, but rather as a why-to genre joining guide.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    I'll confess, I read this book because I wanted to see what one of my favorite authors had to say about my other favorite authors. However, this book is not just insight on Agatha, Marjorie and Dorothy; P.D. James actually discusses the processes she used (and continues to use) to create her wonderful mysteries. Yes, she talks about Sherlock, Father Brown, Lord Peter, Albert Campion, Miss Marple, Morse and Hercule Poirot, but she also discusses the origins of detective fiction, the "hard boiled" I'll confess, I read this book because I wanted to see what one of my favorite authors had to say about my other favorite authors. However, this book is not just insight on Agatha, Marjorie and Dorothy; P.D. James actually discusses the processes she used (and continues to use) to create her wonderful mysteries. Yes, she talks about Sherlock, Father Brown, Lord Peter, Albert Campion, Miss Marple, Morse and Hercule Poirot, but she also discusses the origins of detective fiction, the "hard boiled" American detective fiction and the future of detective fiction. I would highly recommend the book to any detective mystery authors. P.D. James is an excellent author, and even though this is literary criticism, and even though she is not the Agatha Christie fan I am, and even though she barely discussed Marjorie Allingham at all, I really enjoyed this book. So whether you want to know how one of the world's most successful authors does it, or what one of the world's most successful authors thinks of other works in her medium - read this book! You won't be sorry (and if you are at all like me, you'll get ideas for some good mysteries to pick up at the library).

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bryonny

    I'm not sure what audience this book was pitched to - but I wasn't it. This is no slur on the work or the writer: I have an academic interest in detective fiction and a readerly interest in P.D. James' novels, and I was hoping for either deeper personal reflections on her life and writing, or a critical analysis of detective fiction as it relates to her work, in the style of A. S. Byatt, whose non-fiction critical work provides the other half of her thought. This was more of a gentle meander thr I'm not sure what audience this book was pitched to - but I wasn't it. This is no slur on the work or the writer: I have an academic interest in detective fiction and a readerly interest in P.D. James' novels, and I was hoping for either deeper personal reflections on her life and writing, or a critical analysis of detective fiction as it relates to her work, in the style of A. S. Byatt, whose non-fiction critical work provides the other half of her thought. This was more of a gentle meander through the genealogy of detective fiction, with none of the depth and footnotes other works have provided on the same subject, and insufficient reflection on her own writerly practice to raise it to a personal exposition of her work rather than a general, and alas fairly shallow, review of the genre's history.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Wendy Dranfield

    This is a really interesting look at the history of crime fiction, including Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie. It's fascinating to consider how the genre has changed over the years and if, like me, you write crime fiction you'll enjoy the rules we are supposed to abide by and how fun it is to break them!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Tfitoby

    I usually object to the term 'nice' being applied to a book but in this instance I will make an exception. This was a nice and accurate study of the history of the British detective novel written by somebody who is not only highly thought of in the field of detective fiction but most importantly a real fan of the genre. I have never read a single novel from the pen of P.D. James (Cover Her Face is on the horizon now) but I can see why she is so popular in the detective story market, her passion f I usually object to the term 'nice' being applied to a book but in this instance I will make an exception. This was a nice and accurate study of the history of the British detective novel written by somebody who is not only highly thought of in the field of detective fiction but most importantly a real fan of the genre. I have never read a single novel from the pen of P.D. James (Cover Her Face is on the horizon now) but I can see why she is so popular in the detective story market, her passion for the subject shines through in this essay and her knowledge is overwhelming to a mere enthusiast such as myself. Although I guess it's easy to have so much knowledge to hand at 90 years old, having been reading detective fiction from the dawn of The Golden Age that the majority of this book focuses on. I think it is telling that I preferred the discussion of hard-boiled fiction to the analysis of Christie, Marsh, Allingham and Sayers, but more about my tastes than hers. As the subject drifts away from the classic period so too did my enjoyment in reading, I think this is again as a direct result of the authors enthusiasm for the subject not being quite so overwhelming in regards to later novels in the genre. Well worth the read for anyone with more than a passing interest in the history of detective fiction AND proceeds go to a good cause, The Bodleian Library.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jim Coughenour

    I'm sorry to say that this book is as dull as its title. I've read almost everything James has written – most recently The Private Patient, with the usual Jamesian cast of cultured hyper-constipated characters. This book is a rather dutiful, altogether unnecessary survey of (almost exclusively British) detective fiction. It's Wikipedia with a cream tea. What I really wanted, I realized, was her take on her contemporaries – Gossiping About Detective Fiction. Surely she's possessed of juicy insight I'm sorry to say that this book is as dull as its title. I've read almost everything James has written – most recently The Private Patient, with the usual Jamesian cast of cultured hyper-constipated characters. This book is a rather dutiful, altogether unnecessary survey of (almost exclusively British) detective fiction. It's Wikipedia with a cream tea. What I really wanted, I realized, was her take on her contemporaries – Gossiping About Detective Fiction. Surely she's possessed of juicy insights that would satisfy the cravings of those of us who read mysteries by the pile. But apparently the Baroness of Holland Park does not permit herself such pleasures, and her conversation never ascends beyond the anodyne.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Vishy

    A few days back I was looking for some light, breezy reading and when I looked at my bookshelves, ‘Talking about Detective Fiction’ by P.D.James leapt at me. So I took the book down from the shelf and read it. It was a fast read, and I finished reading it yesterday. Here is what I think. What I think In ‘Talking about Detective Fiction’ P.D.James gives an overview of British detective fiction in the past one hundred and fifty years. The key operative word here is ‘British’. She begins with how it A few days back I was looking for some light, breezy reading and when I looked at my bookshelves, ‘Talking about Detective Fiction’ by P.D.James leapt at me. So I took the book down from the shelf and read it. It was a fast read, and I finished reading it yesterday. Here is what I think. What I think In ‘Talking about Detective Fiction’ P.D.James gives an overview of British detective fiction in the past one hundred and fifty years. The key operative word here is ‘British’. She begins with how it all started, the debates on which novel can be regarded as the first ever detective novel and how the creation of a detective unit in the actual police force was a pre-requisite before a novel could be regarded as a detective novel. She then talks about Wilkie Collins’ ‘The Moonstone’ and how it was the pioneer in this area. She goes on to talk about the familiar icons – Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and the kind of influence Holmes had on subsequent detectives, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple and how they were detective superstars for decades, though the overall structure of their stories was very predictable. She then talks about the Golden Age of British detective fiction and the authors and detectives who peopled those times. She takes a digression here and goes beyond British detective fiction and talks about American hardboiled fiction by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and talks about how they are very different when compared to the fiction written by the Golden Age authors. She goes on to talk about the four great women authors who wrote detective fiction – Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh. She then describes the basic elements of a detective story and how different authors had improvised these elements in their own unique way, sharing her own experiences when she was working on her books. She then concludes by looking at why some critics like detective stories and others don’t and describes how the detective fiction landscape looks like today and gives her prediction on how it will look like in the future. Before I started reading the book, I smiled at it. I have been reading detective fiction in different languages ever since I can remember and I thought I knew one or two things about it. One or two things that P.D.James might not know :) So, I first made a list of things that I knew, which I thought James may not include in her book. The list had these things : (1) As the book is called ‘Talking about Detective Fiction’, I thought I will make a list of detective fiction authors who were American. My list had authors like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Mickey Spillane, Robert B. Parker, Walter Moseley (all American). I ignored the Scandinavian guys, Andrea Camilleri (Italian), the Russian Agatha Christie Alexandra Marinina and detective fiction writers in my own language like Tamilvanan, Sujatha, Rajesh Kumar, the famous Urdu writer Ibn-e-Safi and the Chinese writer Qiu Xiaolong, because I knew that P.D.James wouldn’t have heard of them. (If we get curious and ask the question – is it possible to write a global history of detective fiction? My answer – ‘Impossible’! There are too many writers in far too many languages!) (2) I included Georges Simenon as a separate name on the list. Though Simenon wrote in French, he is a true legend of the detective fiction genre and he started writing detective fiction at the same time that the Golden Age authors did and his career coincided with Agatha Christie’s career for decades. So I thought that anyone who ignored Simenon did so at their own peril. (3) I added a couple of British writers, who don’t seem to be so well known today as detective fiction writers, to the list. They are Freeman Wills Crofts and A.A.Milne. Milne wrote just one detective novel called ‘The Red House Mystery’, but I thought he deserved to be talked about. After a lot of reluctance, I also added Georgette Heyer to the list. (4) I added a few writers of historical mysteries to the list. Though they wrote novels which are set in ancient times, I thought they were important, because they also wrote mysteries. The names I included were Ellis Peters (who wrote the Cadfael mysteries), Lindsey Davis (whose mysteries featuring Marcus Didius Falco, one of my favourite detectives, is set in ancient Rome), Margaret Doody (in whose novels Aristotle features as a detective), Umberto Eco (whose ‘The Name of the Rose’ can be regarded, among other things, as a detective novel), Boris Akunin (who wrote the Fandorin and the Sister Pelagia novels) and Susanna Gregory (who wrote the Matthew Bartholomew novels set in Cambridge university). (5) I also added Edgar Allan Poe as a separate name on the list. Many people regard Poe as the founder of modern detective fiction because he was the first to introduce a fictional detective – Auguste Lupin in some of his short stories. Poe, however, never wrote a detective novel. I wanted to know what James thought about Poe and whether she gave him credit for inventing the genre. (6) I also added James Hadley Chase to the list. Chase was regarded as the British Raymond Chandler. In my own opinion, in terms of plotting and pace, Chase was better than Chandler, though Chandler’s prose was better and beautiful. I wanted to know whether James mentions Chase anywhere. After having made my list, I read the book carefully. I wanted to find out whether James missed out someone. Whether she tripped up somewhere. I was ready to catch her if she did and point out the omission. It was an interesting experience to read the book this way. The result of this exercise was this (in football terms) : PD James 1 – Vishy 0 :) James didn’t trip a single time! To make her position clear, she says at the beginning of the book that it is a survey of British detective fiction. However, she gives a separate chapter for American hardboiled fiction writers Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett (though she doesn’t mention Mickey Spillane or Walter Moseley or Robert B. Parker). She writes a wonderful few passages about A.A.Milne’s ‘The Red House Mystery’ (I really thought I would catch her here :)), she talks about Ellis Peters and Lindsey Davis in one of the later chapters (though she doesn’t mention Margaret Doody or Umberto Eco, especially Umberto Eco whose ‘The Name of the Rose’ can be both treated as detective fiction and literary fiction), she writes about how Edgar Allan Poe created the first modern fictional detective (though she gives more weight to Wilkie Collins as the father of the modern detective novel). Unfortunately, she doesn’t mention James Hadley Chase anywhere, which is unfortunate, because though he is unknown and underrated today, he was one of the most wonderful storytellers there ever was. Maybe James thought that he was a crime novelist and didn’t really write detective fiction. So far so good. But on one item, I thought I will really score a point over James. I thought she wouldn’t talk about Georges Simenon. It didn’t happen till the last chapter. But in the last chapter she gives Simenon his due and gushes about him. She also talks about detective fiction from Scandinavia, Italy, Russia, Iceland, Japan. I have to say that by the time I had finished the book, James had won me over completely by her knowledge, her warmth, her beautiful prose, her comprehensive tackling of the subject, her wisdom. I had total admiration and affection for her. I have two minor quibbles though. The first one is that James misses out Freeman Wills Crofts. Freeman Wills Crofts was one of the greats of the Golden Age and his books were regarded as forerunners of the modern day ‘police procedural’. Unfortunately, he is not so well-known today. I think he should find a place atleast in a book on the history of detective fiction. My second quibble is that James doesn’t talk much about herself, though she does share her thoughts on how she got ideas for her novels and the kind of research she did to write them and how she came upon the setting described in her novels. As a detective fiction novelist, James is one of the greats in her domain and so her being modest, though it is the polite thing to do, makes the reader yearn for more. The book compares Agatha Christie’s novels with Dorothy Sayers’ and Margery Allingham’s and Ngaio Marsh’s. We would have liked to know how James’ novels stacked against these great women’s novels. But this is one of the conundrums in the book – it is like asking Maradona to write about the history of football or Tendulkar to write about the history of cricket or Steffi Graf to write about the history of tennis – how much will he / she write about himself / herself but still continue to be polite? It is a tough situation to be in. Agatha Christie fans will have a few things to quibble about in the book. For example, James says this about Christie : Her style is neither original nor elegant but it is workmanlike. And then she says this : Agatha Christie hasn’t in my view had a profound influence on the later development of the detective story. She wasn’t an innovative writer and had no interest in exploring the possibilities of the genre. And here comes the double-edged sword. Above all she is a literary conjuror who places her pasteboard characters face downwards and shuffles them with practiced cunning. However she also says nice things about Christie, and explores why Christie’s mysteries have been so successful across the decades. However the above comments stand out, and Christie fans might be irked by this. After reading the book, I discovered that despite having knowledge of some of the arcane aspects of detective fiction, I haven’t read books by many of the legends of the genre. There were so many gaps in my reading. So, I thought I will make a ‘TBR’ list of detective fiction, based on the books that James mentions in her book. Here is what it looks like : (1) Caleb Williams by William Godwin (published in 1794 and regarded as the first ever detective novel) (2) Four Auguste Dupin short stories by Edgar Allan Poe – ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’, ‘The Mystery of Mary Roget’, ‘The Purloined Letter’, ‘The Gold-Bug’ (3) The Father Brown Stories by G.K.Chesterton (4) Trent’s Last Case by E.C.Bentley (regarded as the novel which heralded the Golden Age of detective fiction) (5) Two books by Edmund Crispin – ‘The Case of the Gilded Fly’ and ‘The Moving Toyshop’ (6) ‘Speedy Death’ by Gladys Mitchell (starring Dame Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley – isn’t Beatrice Lestrange one of the villainous witches in the Harry Potter series? Why did J.K.Rowling give this name to one of the villains? Is there a story behind that?) (7) Books by Michael Innes (starring Sir John Appleby of Scotland Yard – I really want to read these stories!) (8) Tragedy at Law by Cyril Hare (9) Three novels by Josephine Tey – ‘The Man in the Queue’, ‘Brat Farrar’ and ‘The Franchise Affair’ (10) Books by Ross Macdonald (starring Detective Lew Archer) (11) Books by Sara Paretsky (starring V.I.Warchawski) (12) Three books by Dorothy L. Sayers – ‘Strong Poison’, ‘Have his Carcase’, ‘Gaudy Night’ (13) Two novels by Margery Allingham – ‘Flowers for the Judge’, ‘More Work for the Undertaker’ (14) Three novels by Ngaio Marsh – ‘Vintage Murder’, ‘Colour Scheme’, ‘Died in the Wool’ (15) Historical mysteries by C.J.Sansom (16) The Lady Investigates : Women Detectives and Spies in Fiction by Patricia Craig and Mary Cadogan (17) The Great Detectives ed. By Otto Penzler (18) Bloody Murder by Julian Symons I loved ‘Talking about Detective Fiction’ by P.D.James. It is a slim gem but it is comprehensive and it is a must-read for detective fiction fans. Highly recommended. I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book. One of the criticisms of the detective story is that this imposed pattern is mere formula writing, that it binds the novelist in a straitjacket which is inimical to the artistic freedom which is essential to creativity, and that subtlety of characterization, a setting which comes alive for the reader and even credibility are sacrificed to the dominance of structure and plot. But what I find fascinating is the extraordinary variety of books and writers which this so-called formula has been able to accommodate, and how many authors have found the constraints and conventions of the detective story liberating rather than inhibiting of their creative imagination. To say that one cannot produce a good novel within the discipline of a formal structure is as foolish as to say that no sonnet can be great poetry since a sonnet is restricted to fourteen lines – an octave and a sestet – and a strict rhyming sequence. And detective stories are not the only novels which conform to a recognized convention and structure. All Jane Austen’s novels have a common storyline : an attractive and virtuous young woman surmounts difficulties to achieve marriage to the man of her choice. This is the age-long convention of the romantic novel, but with Jane Austen what we have is Mills & Boon written by a genius. And however well I think I know my characters, they reveal themselves more clearly during the writing of the book, so that at the end, however carefully and intricately the work is plotted, I never get exactly the novel I planned. It feels, indeed, as if the characters and everything that happens to them exists in some limbo of the imagination, so that what I am doing is not inventing them but getting in touch with them and putting their story down in black and white, a process of revelation not of creation. Certainly all the major novelists in the canon of English literature have told stories, some exciting, some tragic, some slight, some mysterious, but all of them have the virtue of leaving us with a need to know what happens next as we turn each page. For a time in the late twentieth century it seemed that the story was losing its status and that psychological analysis, a complicated and occasionally inaccessible style and an egotistic introspection were taking over from action. Happily there now seems to be a return to the art of storytelling. (Comment : I am not sure whether novelists are back to storytelling these days, but I am happy that P.D.James feels that way.) Have you read ‘Talking about Detective Fiction’ by P.D.James? Have you read books / writers in the above list? What do you think about them?

  9. 4 out of 5

    Dimitris Passas

    This is a must-read for every aspiring crime fiction writer, along with Patricia Highsmith's ''Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction'' and Stephen King's ''On Writing''. P.D. James is a more than experienced author and in this book, she shares some of her knowledge on how to write detective stories from the narrative and structure of a novel all the way until the plotting and characterization. There are plenty of references to other writers, English in their majority, which act as examples that This is a must-read for every aspiring crime fiction writer, along with Patricia Highsmith's ''Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction'' and Stephen King's ''On Writing''. P.D. James is a more than experienced author and in this book, she shares some of her knowledge on how to write detective stories from the narrative and structure of a novel all the way until the plotting and characterization. There are plenty of references to other writers, English in their majority, which act as examples that help the reader to interpret correctly P.D. James's remarks on a number of topics concerning the structure and the actual writing process of a detective/suspense novel. An advantage of this book is that the author doesn't try to impose her own views on the proper use of narrative techniques, character descriptions, settings etc. but introduces her notions as equal to a number of different approaches on each part. Personally, I found the sixth chapter of the book to be the most interesting one because the main elements of the novel are discussed thoroughly and one can find a lot of suggestions for further reading on the subject. ''Talking About Detective Fiction'' is a true classic and a book that will remain a reference point for those eager to endeavor in the artistic, creative writing process.

  10. 4 out of 5

    James Joyce

    Nice, easy-going review of mystery fiction, from The Moonstone to modern day. Ish. Mostly focused on Holmes and up to James's contemporaries. Covers attitudes, changes in approach, style, expectations of readers, etc.. Even has a section on American pulp mysteries. A very nice overview and worth it, if you are a mystery fan.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Max Everhart

    Aside from digging her work, particularly the Commander Adam Dalgliesh books, James has many brilliant insights on both British detective stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy Sayers as well as American hard-boiled fiction by Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald. Anytime a master of the genre writes what amounts to a How To Write and/or Interpret Great Detective Fiction book, a mystery novelist would be well-advised to read and take notes. . .which I did. I’ve cobbled together my favorite Aside from digging her work, particularly the Commander Adam Dalgliesh books, James has many brilliant insights on both British detective stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy Sayers as well as American hard-boiled fiction by Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald. Anytime a master of the genre writes what amounts to a How To Write and/or Interpret Great Detective Fiction book, a mystery novelist would be well-advised to read and take notes. . .which I did. I’ve cobbled together my favorite bits below. James on using setting, from pages 129-131: Place, after all, is where the characters play out their tragicomedies, and it is only if the action is firmly rooted in a physical reality that we can fully enter their world…the setting is where these people live, move and have their being, and we need to breathe their air, see with their eyes, walk they paths they tread and inhabit the rooms the writer has furnished for them. James on Raymond Chandler’s contributions to the detective genre, from page 86: He showed crime writers that what is important goes beyond an ingenious plot, mystery and suspense. More important are the novelist’s voice, the reality of the world he creates and the strength and originality of the writing…he rejected the editor’s insistence in cutting out all descriptions on the grounds that the readers disliked anything that held up the action. James on serial detectives, from page 153: A serial detective has…particular advantages: an established character who does not have to be introduced afresh with each novel, a successful career in crime-solving which can add gravitas, an established family history and background and, above all, reader identification and loyalty. James on why readers are drawn to mysteries, from page 14: (Mysteries–my word) provide not only the satisfaction of all popular literature, the mild intellectual challenge of a puzzle, excitement, confirmation of our cherished beliefs in goodness and order, but also entry to a familiar and reassuring world in which we both involved in violent death and yet remain personally inviolate both from responsibility and from its terrors. Bottom line, this book offers a treasure trove of great stuff, and it would be enjoyable for the avid mystery reader and educational for any mystery novelist, whether aspiring or already established. Often when you read a non-fiction book by a fiction writer, you can see why the writer’s novels are so good, and Talking About Detective Fiction is an excellent example of that.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    P.D. James had a lovely way of laying out an argument and proceeding carefully through her topic, point by point. The history of detective fiction, as she shared it, broke no new ground but made me want to return to old favorites (Ngaio Marsh!) that I first read in my teens and early twenties. I particularly loved the chapter about the "Big Four" - Christie, Allingham, Sayers, and Marsh. The latter part of the book, which talked about the importance of setting and characterization, was also fasc P.D. James had a lovely way of laying out an argument and proceeding carefully through her topic, point by point. The history of detective fiction, as she shared it, broke no new ground but made me want to return to old favorites (Ngaio Marsh!) that I first read in my teens and early twenties. I particularly loved the chapter about the "Big Four" - Christie, Allingham, Sayers, and Marsh. The latter part of the book, which talked about the importance of setting and characterization, was also fascinating. There is also a comprehensive bibliography of biographies, literary criticism, and reference books on detective fiction. While she said she was not a critic and did not seem to want to press her own favorites upon her readers, it was clear who they were, and they included several of my own - her contemporaries Reginald Hill, Colin Dexter, and especially her friend Ruth Rendell. In Val McDermid's obituary for Rendell in The Guardian, she said (of Hill, James and Rendell): "To lose all three of them in the space of two short years is hard to bear. All those books unwritten, unshared. Because if they’d had more time, there would have been more. All three of them were writing right up to the end. Some writers run out of steam. None of them did." It would have been grand if Ms. James could have written more nonfiction like this, as well as more Dalgliesh novels, more Cordelia Gray, etc. Now their fans have the choice of re-reading their classics, or finding new novelists to follow. I'll be pursuing both options!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Abrir un Libro

    Generosa tesis la de P. D. James en Todo lo que sé sobre novela negra donde explica de forma muy personal, y ejerciendo de mentoring para todos aquellos que quieran instruirse en la novela negra ya sea como escritor o como lector, desempeñando la función de guía para hablar de los inicios y del desarrollo de la novela de detectives y del hard-boiled. También hará un somero recorrido por la novela negra contemporánea. Amena y para nada tediosa o confusa, la exposición será muy clara y está narrada Generosa tesis la de P. D. James en Todo lo que sé sobre novela negra donde explica de forma muy personal, y ejerciendo de mentoring para todos aquellos que quieran instruirse en la novela negra ya sea como escritor o como lector, desempeñando la función de guía para hablar de los inicios y del desarrollo de la novela de detectives y del hard-boiled. También hará un somero recorrido por la novela negra contemporánea. Amena y para nada tediosa o confusa, la exposición será muy clara y está narrada para buscar el interés del lector. P.D. James se presenta en casi todo el libro hablando como una lectora más aunque también realizará algún apunte como escritora utilizando para ello ejemplos de algunas de sus novelas. De manera absolutamente... http://www.abrirunlibro.com/2017/02/t...

  14. 4 out of 5

    Liz Nutting

    In 1980, on the plane home to California for Christmas holidays, after my first semester at Bryn Mawr College, I opened Dorothy L. Sayers' Gaudy Night for the first time. The book had been thrust into my hands by some older classmates, who assured me that if nothing else, I would appreciate the descriptions of Oxford, whose soaring College Gothic architecture and quaint academic traditions would remind me of college life at Bryn Mawr (which had been consciously modeled on "Oxbridge" by M. Carey In 1980, on the plane home to California for Christmas holidays, after my first semester at Bryn Mawr College, I opened Dorothy L. Sayers' Gaudy Night for the first time. The book had been thrust into my hands by some older classmates, who assured me that if nothing else, I would appreciate the descriptions of Oxford, whose soaring College Gothic architecture and quaint academic traditions would remind me of college life at Bryn Mawr (which had been consciously modeled on "Oxbridge" by M. Carey Thomas, the college's president and life force). With finals over and having no good spy thrillers, I started reading. When the plane landed five hours later, I had been transformed into that most quirky of all creatures, a reader of mysteries. About 10 years later, on another trek home for the holidays, this time from seminary in the Bay Area, my car broke down in an obscure farming town in the San Joachin valley and I was forced to spend the night. Again having nothing to read (a state of which I live in mortal dread), I picked up P.D. James' A Taste of Death and was introduced to Adam Dagleish. James quickly joined Sayers on my short list of "Liz's Favorite Mystery Writers." This book had me reminiscing fondly for both those moments of discovery. It is a breezy, concise history of the mystery novel, focusing almost exclusively on the origins of the classic British police procedural (my favorite sub-genre, thanks in large part to Sayers and James). There's nothing profound or ground-breaking in James' analysis. Seasoned mystery aficionados will already be familiar with this history and will have likely read many of the authors and books she references. Even so, James had me rushing to my Kindle to download several early authors (and a few later ones) that I had yet to encounter. After all, there's few pleasures in this world as profound as curling up on the couch with a new murder to solve.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Wendy

    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 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.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    James, P. D. TALKING ABOUT DETECTIVE FICTION. (2009). ****. Who would know more about detective fiction than this world-class author? It was a treat to read her views and analyses of the genre although she did stick pretty much to the English variety. Of Americans mentioned, there were Chandler, Hammett, and Paretsky. She also mentions in passing several other non-Brits, but does not delve into their works. She starts off with Wilke Collins, then goes on to Conan Doyle, then jumps into what is k James, P. D. TALKING ABOUT DETECTIVE FICTION. (2009). ****. Who would know more about detective fiction than this world-class author? It was a treat to read her views and analyses of the genre although she did stick pretty much to the English variety. Of Americans mentioned, there were Chandler, Hammett, and Paretsky. She also mentions in passing several other non-Brits, but does not delve into their works. She starts off with Wilke Collins, then goes on to Conan Doyle, then jumps into what is known as the “Golden Age,” the period between the two world wars. Here she is at her best. Her favorites are Sayers, Christie, and Marsh, but she does discuss several of the less well-known writers. There even a couple of them that I hadn’t read! I was pleased to see, right off, that she included my favorite quotation from E. M. Forster’s “Aspects of the Novel”: “The king died and then the queen died is a story. The king died and then the queen died of grief is a plot...The queen died, no one knew why until it was discovered that it was through grief at the death of the king. This is a plot with a mystery in it, a form capable of high development.” This is not a formal review of detective fiction, more like an extended conversation – which the title implies. Recommended.

  17. 5 out of 5

    willaful

    This short discussion of the mystery genre will interest any fan, but particularly those of the classic English mystery. (Newcomers be warned, there are plenty of spoilers.) The writing style is a bit on the fussy and formal side, with a fair bit of filler (so-and-so is great, will always be remembered, yadda yadda yadda), but with some dry wit that made me laugh aloud several times. Each chapter also opens with an entertaining cartoon. My main problem with the book was that in every area in whic This short discussion of the mystery genre will interest any fan, but particularly those of the classic English mystery. (Newcomers be warned, there are plenty of spoilers.) The writing style is a bit on the fussy and formal side, with a fair bit of filler (so-and-so is great, will always be remembered, yadda yadda yadda), but with some dry wit that made me laugh aloud several times. Each chapter also opens with an entertaining cartoon. My main problem with the book was that in every area in which I know the subject very well, I generally disagreed with James and wanted to argue the point. There was one fact stated about a well-known book that was simply wrong (The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey does not have a first-person narrative) and many opinions given that I could readily provide counter-examples to, especially concerning the books of Agatha Christie. It made me wonder how much I could really trust James' comments on the authors I don't know.

  18. 5 out of 5

    James

    If you are interested in learning about detective fiction this is a good place to start. You may have to go no further. P. D. James, whose novels I have enjoyed reading, has written an informative, if not comprehensive, short book about detective fiction. Starting with references to the earliest examples of the genre in books like Charles Dicken's Bleak House, she discusses writers and their works including Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett and others. She discusses If you are interested in learning about detective fiction this is a good place to start. You may have to go no further. P. D. James, whose novels I have enjoyed reading, has written an informative, if not comprehensive, short book about detective fiction. Starting with references to the earliest examples of the genre in books like Charles Dicken's Bleak House, she discusses writers and their works including Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett and others. She discusses detective fiction as social history, the stylistic components of the genre, her own process of writing, the reaction of critics, and what she considers the renewal of detective fiction in recent years. This is a book for both lovers of detective fiction and good writing.

  19. 4 out of 5

    DeAnna Knippling

    Sadly, this didn't resonate with me. PD James's writing is excellent and thoughtful, but...the book doesn't cover much. It's a book for people who aren't familiar with mysteries, but one that only people who are familiar with mysteries would want to read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Laurel Hicks

    A nonagenarian crime fiction master talks about her craft. No mystery here, just good, brainy writing.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Eustacia Tan

    I can only theorise that the reason why this book lay unread for so long was because I wanted to save it. In its own way, the anticipation of a good book is almost as good as reading a good book. Luckily, I was not disappointed. Talking About Detective Fiction is a discussion of the genre, from its definition and history, to famous women writers, the technical aspects, and criticism of the genre. And of course, there's a discussion of the modern day mystery (modern = 2009) The whole book is really I can only theorise that the reason why this book lay unread for so long was because I wanted to save it. In its own way, the anticipation of a good book is almost as good as reading a good book. Luckily, I was not disappointed. Talking About Detective Fiction is a discussion of the genre, from its definition and history, to famous women writers, the technical aspects, and criticism of the genre. And of course, there's a discussion of the modern day mystery (modern = 2009) The whole book is really good, but my favourite chapters would be those on the golden age of detective fiction and of "four formidable women", the women being Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh. I confess that of the four, I'm only familiar with Christie. I've read only one Sayer book, and none of Allingham and Marsh, which is something that I need to correct. In fact, those two chapters alone have given me quite a reading list. Oh and my copy of the book had comics about mysteries here and there - I definitely chuckled at them and liked their inclusion. While P. D. James apologises for referencing her own work at the start of the book, I think that mentions of her own work have been minimal (and largely confined to the end). In fact, the book mentions a wide variety of detective books and literature about the stories. P. D. James definitely knows her stuff, and it shows. When her work was mentioned, it was to good effect (explaining why she chose certain settings, for example), and I felt like reading her books after this (I think I've only read one or two?) I highly recommend to this fans of mysteries. This is a readable, engaging book that will probably give fans new authors to search for. P.s. In a discussion of the modern detective fiction, she mentions C. J. Sanson and I highly recommend his works too. They're set in Tudor England and while I haven't finished the series (since I haven't been to the local library in a while), I fully intend to finish it when I get the chance. This review was first posted at Inside the mind of a Bibliophile

  22. 4 out of 5

    Graeme Roberts

    P. D. James provides great pleasure to lovers of mystery and detective fiction, examining the history of the genre and how it works, with examples from the legends, live and dead. Having read a number of her books, I enjoyed her inside stories:My own detective novels, with rare exceptions, have been inspired by the place rather than by the method of murder or a character; an example is Devices and Desires which had its genesis while I was on a visit of exploration in East Anglia, standing on a P. D. James provides great pleasure to lovers of mystery and detective fiction, examining the history of the genre and how it works, with examples from the legends, live and dead. Having read a number of her books, I enjoyed her inside stories:My own detective novels, with rare exceptions, have been inspired by the place rather than by the method of murder or a character; an example is Devices and Desires which had its genesis while I was on a visit of exploration in East Anglia, standing on a deserted shingle beach. There were a few wooden boats drawn up on the beach, a couple of brown nets strung between poles and drying in the wind, and looking out over the sullen and dangerous North Sea, I could imagine myself standing in the same place hundreds of years ago with the taste of salt on my lips and the constant hiss and withdrawing rattle of the tide. Then turning my eyes to the south, I saw the great outline of Sizewell nuclear power station and immediately I knew that I had found the setting for my next novel.Then there was the choice of detective:I had learnt a lesson from Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie, both of whom started out with eccentric detectives with whom in time they became thoroughly disenchanted. So I decided to begin with a less egregiously bizarre character and ruthlessly killed off wife and newborn son in order to avoid involving myself in his emotional life, which I felt would be difficult successfully to incorporate into the structure of the classical detective story. I gave him the qualities I personally admire in either sex—intelligence, courage but not foolhardiness, sensitivity but not sentimentality, and reticence. I felt that this would provide me with a credible professional policeman capable of development should this first novel be the first of a series.You can see that her writing is serviceable, but neither elegant nor beautiful. She mentioned sex and sexuality several times in the book, so I resent her decision to make Adam Dalgleish an emotional cripple. Handsome, tall, kind, intelligent, and poetic, he could at least have found joyful congress in every volume, albeit with British reticence. And, of course, a British woman.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Christophe Van

    (1) Informative, (2) opinionated based on experience and intellect, and (3) rendered with wit and style. Because of (2) and (3), this slender volume is very enjoyable even for experienced readers of detective fiction and the related meta-literature.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Netradičně tradiční

    Nečekala jsem, že to bude tak vědecké, ale aspoň mám tipy, co číst dá, až mi dojdou knihy, které jsem si schovávala na letošní léto.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Michele

    A short and very readable little book on the nature, charms, and enduring popularity of the detective novel, by an acknowledged master of the craft. One of my favorite bits was her discussion of the "rules" of detective fiction, as laid out by Ronald Knox in his preface to the anthology Best Detective Stories of 1928-29, which include no more than one secret room or passage, no hitherto undiscovered poisons or methods requiring long scientific explanation, and no Chinamen (!). Another entertaini A short and very readable little book on the nature, charms, and enduring popularity of the detective novel, by an acknowledged master of the craft. One of my favorite bits was her discussion of the "rules" of detective fiction, as laid out by Ronald Knox in his preface to the anthology Best Detective Stories of 1928-29, which include no more than one secret room or passage, no hitherto undiscovered poisons or methods requiring long scientific explanation, and no Chinamen (!). Another entertaining chapter quotes a few literary critics from the early days of the genre, talking smack about it. And of course I now have a list of about ten more authors that I want to find and read :)

  26. 5 out of 5

    Evelyn

    Spent my childhood reading not only my own books but my mother's, with an odd exception-- I rarely read her mystery novels. She had a particular section of the wall-sized bookcase in the den relegated to mystery writers, almost entirely slim paperbacks whose sensational covers very much reflected the aesthetic Gordon Lightfoot once described as belonging to " a paperback novel, the kind the drugstores sell." I'm indeed nostalgic for the days of paperbacks in the drugstore, but that's another mat Spent my childhood reading not only my own books but my mother's, with an odd exception-- I rarely read her mystery novels. She had a particular section of the wall-sized bookcase in the den relegated to mystery writers, almost entirely slim paperbacks whose sensational covers very much reflected the aesthetic Gordon Lightfoot once described as belonging to " a paperback novel, the kind the drugstores sell." I'm indeed nostalgic for the days of paperbacks in the drugstore, but that's another matter. Although Christie is the only one of these writers I've read, I did spend a lot of childhood time poring over these books for the sheer pleasure of the covers--which usually featured some garish, alluring mix of glamour and violence. I especially liked the witchy-themed ones. Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie all featured prominently in my mother's collection (which was not exclusively female although predominantly so-- I recall that Rex Stout had a fair share of real estate-- what a name). So why did I read a book on detective fiction from the early twentieth century? PD James had a wonderful interview on Fresh Air years ago, and her description of the way these writers spoke to each other through their work was just so entertaining and compelling I had to get the book. It was perfectly timed for a last minute Christmas gift for my mother, who of course loved it, and eventually the book made its way back to me. TALKING ABOUT DETECTIVE FICTION is completely absorbing even if you haven't read these writers (as I said, have only read Christie, and never warmed up to James' books-- even Children of Men, although I admire it-- and completely adore the film and its much more humane and hopeful vision). In their way these books are quite radical, books and authors alike, so maybe that's the attraction. There's certainly a macabre kind of comfort in the formula. I suspect that of all these writers Sayers is the most literary and original and one of these days I will get to Gaudy Night.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    I started reading P. D. James a few years ago after I watched a television show on Agatha Christie. While I enjoyed the old Tommy and Tuppence series, I never could get into the books. James give me a reason why, and so I picked up one of her books and liked it. This book is not a mystery but is about mysteries. It is well written; in fact, it is warmly written. James traces the development of the genre in a quick but asute way. She covers Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conon-Doyle, Nagio Marsh, Christie I started reading P. D. James a few years ago after I watched a television show on Agatha Christie. While I enjoyed the old Tommy and Tuppence series, I never could get into the books. James give me a reason why, and so I picked up one of her books and liked it. This book is not a mystery but is about mysteries. It is well written; in fact, it is warmly written. James traces the development of the genre in a quick but asute way. She covers Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conon-Doyle, Nagio Marsh, Christie, and others. While most of the book is centraled on British (by birth or choice) writers, James also explores Hammett Dashiel and Raymond Chandler. There is a little about James' own choies when she writes, but she keeps the focus on other writers and is very good about avoiding spoilers.

  28. 4 out of 5

    AngryGreyCat

    This was a fascinating non-fiction turn by P.D. James. In this book, she discusses the genre of detective fiction, the Golden Age of Mystery Writing, the “rules” of detective fiction, the rise of the hard boiled detectives, prominent female writers, and then individual components, setting, viewpoint and people. In particular she discusses that genre fiction has a place in writing just as literary fiction does. "We can honour and celebrate the genius which produced Middlemarch, War and Peace, and This was a fascinating non-fiction turn by P.D. James. In this book, she discusses the genre of detective fiction, the Golden Age of Mystery Writing, the “rules” of detective fiction, the rise of the hard boiled detectives, prominent female writers, and then individual components, setting, viewpoint and people. In particular she discusses that genre fiction has a place in writing just as literary fiction does. "We can honour and celebrate the genius which produced Middlemarch, War and Peace, and Ulysses without devaluing Treasure Island, The Moonstone, and the The Inimitable Jeeves. The detective story at its best can stand in such company..." P.D. James If the references are anything to go by, then P.D. James was a huge fan of Dorothy Sayers, particularly Gaudy Night. She mentions a virtual who’s who of mystery fiction throughout the book. Some of the authors mentioned include: Agatha Christie (of course) Margery Allingham Dorothy Sayers Ngaio Marsh Wilkie Collins Arthur Conan Doyle G.K. Chesterton Josephine Tey Dashiell Hammett Raymond Chandler Colin Dexter Reginald Hill Ruth Rendell This was a fascinating glimpse into P.D. James thoughts about detective fiction. In particular, I would note the concept of traditional detective fiction as bringing order back from chaos. I would recommend this to crime fiction readers and anyone interested in writing.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Mitchell

    Highly satisfying! James is not only a master novelist in detective fiction herself but a discerning analyst of the genre. She understands what makes my favorite kind of book so engaging, pleasing, and addictive, and does a nice job explaining it to the rest of us. James parsed out my thoughts and feelings about my favorite authors and their sleuths: Dorothy L. Sayers, Edith Pargeter (Ellis Peters), Conan Doyle, etc, into insightful short essays. Highly recommended if you like this sort of thing Highly satisfying! James is not only a master novelist in detective fiction herself but a discerning analyst of the genre. She understands what makes my favorite kind of book so engaging, pleasing, and addictive, and does a nice job explaining it to the rest of us. James parsed out my thoughts and feelings about my favorite authors and their sleuths: Dorothy L. Sayers, Edith Pargeter (Ellis Peters), Conan Doyle, etc, into insightful short essays. Highly recommended if you like this sort of thing. I will re-read it and mine her chapters for new options of great authors to search out at our library.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Dana Stabenow

    One of the problems with reading a book like this is that now I have a whole list of great crime fiction novels going back to the Golden Age on my to-read list. Damn Baroness James, damn her! Otherwise, this is a lively little volume that examines the author's genre in a literate and often gently acerbic style. Of 221B Baker Street, she writes, "We also learn that the sitting room was Sherlock Holmes's office and the place where he received his visitors, which meant that Watson had to be banished One of the problems with reading a book like this is that now I have a whole list of great crime fiction novels going back to the Golden Age on my to-read list. Damn Baroness James, damn her! Otherwise, this is a lively little volume that examines the author's genre in a literate and often gently acerbic style. Of 221B Baker Street, she writes, "We also learn that the sitting room was Sherlock Holmes's office and the place where he received his visitors, which meant that Watson had to be banished to his bedroom when anyone arrived on business, which was not infrequently. It hardly seems a satisfactory arrangement and I am not surprised that eventually, despite the moderate cost, Watson moved out." Well, when James puts it that way, neither am I. There is a lot about craft here, too, her own and others, as in Evelyn Waugh: "When asked why he never described what his characters were thinking, Waugh replied that he didn't know what they were thinking, he only knew what they said and did." A lot here of practical value delivered with wit and style for both paid whodunniter and wannabe. Highly recommended.

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