Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James

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…

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.

4 thoughts on “Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James

  1. Great read for anyone interested in writing a mystery! 🙂

  2. Ronnie Reads & Reviews says:

    This sounds like a very interesting book to get an insiders perspective on mysteries. The mystery genre always seems to be looked down on. I always find it frustrating that when some very good mysteries come out : Name of the Rose, Gone Girl, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, etc. that they are labelled literary fiction rather than mystery. As if all “literary” fiction is better than any genre fiction which certainly is not true.

  3. […] as one of the female writers of detective fiction is discussed in PD James’ book, Talking about Detective Fiction.  There have also been articles and biographies written about her life and her work.  Letters she […]

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