The Detective Fiction of P.D. James

“I would even claim for Mrs. James a certain paradoxical originality in the success with which she has revitalised a genre considered by many thriller-readers to be past its prime, and assumed by some to be defunct.  Heroically remaining within the classical tradition of scrupulous ingenuity established by Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and Ngaio Marsh, she proudly scorns the alibi which might have been provided by a self-conscious suggestion of pastiche.  Her style is literate, her plots are complicated, her clues are abundant and fair, and her solutions are intended to come as a surprise without straining credulity beyond that subtle point which is instinctively recognised and respected by addicts and practitioners alike.  Her murders are committed in that fascinating world of the crime-writer’s imagination which is so very nearly like real life on the surface, but where human behaviour must be governed by alien, arbitrary and artificial laws – the cosy, paranoid universe of an animated crossword puzzle.  Her obedience to the good old whodunit rules laid down by her elder colleagues gives her work an attractively old-fashioned air, but this is often contradicted by the accuracy of her social and psychological observation and by an underlying, modern melancholy.”

Times Literary Supplement, 13th December 1974


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These pages copyright Nicholas Lester Fuller, 2000--2010. Created 5th December 2004.