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Talking About Detective Fiction [Paperback]

P. D. James
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 Oct 2010
P. D. James brings a lifetime of reading and writing crime fiction to bear on this personal history of the genre, from the birth of the detective story, through Wilkie Collins and Conan Doyle, to the golden age of crime and the rise of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham. There is a chapter on great American crime writers such as Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett, and P. D. James also discusses many of her favourite detectives, from Sherlock Holmes to Kurt Wallender.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (7 Oct 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 057125358X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571253586
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 45,909 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

P. D. James was born in Oxford in 1920 and educated at Cambridge High School for Girls. From 1949 to 1968 she worked in the National Health Service and subsequently in the Home Office, first in the Police Department and later in the Criminal Policy Department. All that experience has been used in her novels.

She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the Royal Society of the Arts and has served as a Governor of the BBC, a member of the Arts Council, where she was Chairman of its Literary Advisory Panel, on the Board of the British Council and as a magistrate in Middlesex and London.

She has won awards for crime writing in Britain, America, Italy and Scandinavia, including the Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster Award. She has received honorary degrees from seven British universities, was awarded an OBE in 1983 and was created a life peer in 1991. In 1997 she was elected President of the Society of Authors.

She lives in London and Oxford and has two daughters, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Product Description

Book Description

A celebration of the best in crime writing through the ages from one of the world's pre-eminent crime writer.

About the Author

P. D. James was born in Oxford in 1920. She has won awards for crime writing in Britain, America, Italy and Scandinavia, including the Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster Award. She has received honorary degrees from seven British universities, was awarded an OBE in 1983 and was created a life peer in 1991. In 1997 she was elected President of the Society of Authors.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Of interest to fans of detective fiction 20 Oct 2009
By Bluebell TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a short book comprising a series of elegantly written, inter-related essays about aspects of detective fiction by one of the best writers in this genre. The book will appeal to those who read a lot of detective fiction and will recognize many of the authors and books with pleasure as she reminds us of the books we've read and enjoyed. She has read and re-read a prodigious number of books in this category in her long life and it's interesting to learn what has influenced her own work and also about her views on authors past and present, though there is scant allusion to the authors of modern detective fiction such as Colin Dexter, Ian Rankin, Peter Lovesey or Ruth Rendell, which may reflect PD James's acknowledged reluctance to act as a reviewer/critic of her contemporaries.

Talking about Detective Fiction starts with an essay about the birth of this genre and the importance of Conon Doyle in making this kind of book popular. Much of the book concentrates on what she terms the "Golden Age" of detective fiction and the writers Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh figure largely. The American Golden Age also merits a chapter about the more gritty-style of Dashell Hammett and Ryamond Chandler. One of the later chapters touches on why PD James started to write detective fiction and a little about her approach to writing.

This is not an in-depth analysis of detective fiction: more a sampler of what's available, mainly from the past, and how these earlier books reflected the society of the time and influenced later writers. I enjoyed this book as not only did it remind me of books I'd read it also referred to authors from the past that I haven't read and might try.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable little meditation by a genre master 8 Nov 2009
P. D. James is an acknowledged giant of the detective fiction genre. Nearly ninety years of age, she now looks back over the genre she has been a part of herself for forty-five years.

"Talking about Detective Fiction" is a small, attractive volume of 160 pages (rather large print and copious white space make it even shorter than it first appears) that can be pleasurably read in an evening. James is an elegant writer and masterful essayist and people will enjoy reading her thoughts on the genre.

Those familiar with James' earlier critical writings will recognize some of the same material here, but it is pleasing to see all her thoughts gathered in one place, along with her latest ideas. James writes mostly about the so-called Golden Age of detective fiction (emphasizing the contribution of the Crime Queens Christie, Sayers, Allingham and Marsh, who get their own chapter), but she also has general chapters on the craft of detective fiction, the reasons for its appeal and its prospects for the future.

Modern and American writers get short shrift, barring the great hardboiled triumverate of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald, limiting the book's utility as a general survey. James also emphasizes her belief that "realism" is the superior mode for detective fiction. Like Dorothy L. Sayers, she celebrates as a model for detective fiction the nineteenth-century novel of manners. Indeed, Sayers is clearly a huge influence on James' own critical thinking (James mentions reading Gaudy Night a year after it was published and explains the great impact it had on her). Another great influence is the late crime novelist and critic Julian Symons and his landmark 1972 study, "Bloody Murder." In other words, James does not break new critical ground, but she nevertheless produces some fragrant blooms from the old soil. Fans of Golden Age detective fiction and of P. D. James should enjoy the scent.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars P.D.James on detective fiction 9 Nov 2009
This is not a book on the general history of detective fiction, but a concise narrative of P.D. James on detective fiction in the English language, written on request of the Bodleian Library. It tells you much of P.D. James and her appreciation of this genre, her favourite period being named "the Golden Age" of the English Detective novel featuring the "Four Formidable Women". This preference is no surprise, as her detective novel "The Private Patient" is written in the same fashion. If you like the novels of P.D. James, this book gives you in the same eloquent style valuable background information and a better understanding of her work. If you do not, you will most probably not agree with her judgement and point of view. Therefore a must for P.D. James fans only.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and informative read 2 Mar 2012
Recommended for all who enjoy detective fiction, though as the lady herself observes, a story doesn't need a detective to be detective fiction. Holmes & Conan Doyle are examined in detail, as is the Golden Era - Christie, Sayers et al, before our peerless author examines how the detective novel has evolved from its inception to present. Very enjoyable, informative, and what's more, the author's royalties are being donated to the Bodleian Library. I've become even fonder of P.D. James, if possible.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A short enjoyable overview 10 May 2011
By Eleanor TOP 500 REVIEWER
In this enjoyable monograph P. D. James discusses the genre of detective fiction, from its nineteenth century origins to the present day, focusing mainly on England's inter-war 'Golden Age'. The book is very readable, even on familiar subjects, with well-chosen examples and quotations. James writes from the perspective of a practitioner of the craft, and her observations are astute, well-written, and often very witty.

This is a short book, and I'm sure readers will regret the omissions of their personal favourites (no Carter Dickson! no Harry Kemelman!). James, however, cannot be expected to cover the whole of the genre and I finished the book with a reignited affection for the form, and a reading list which I can't wait to get started on.

James admirably tries not to give away too many plot twists or endings of the various books she discusses. However, readers who don't know the identity of the murderer in "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" will want to avoid page 53, and page 92 is out for those who don't want to know the ingenious ways in which Sayers's victims meet their ends.

Sometimes the prose felt slightly disjointed, with paragraphs not always smoothly following on from one other, and there was some repetition as well. I also would have appreciated an index of authors mentioned. But these are very minor quibbles and I would recommend this book both to fans of the genre and to newcomers wanting a place to start. As an added bonus a portion of the proceeds of the paperback edition will be donated to Bodleian Library.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Wasn't what I thought it would be.
Published 26 days ago by Jeanniejeanniejeannie
4.0 out of 5 stars Murder at the Vicarage
Oh, the wonderful, guilty enjoyment that is to be had in the consumption of detective novels! Delicious bite sized snacks, bursting with nostalgic delights, the page-turning... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Amy James
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read
The author writes well. The writing is clear, explicit and informative. The text suited the purposes for which it was bought, which was to understand Baroness's thinking and... Read more
Published 11 months ago by MMY
3.0 out of 5 stars Decent Primer
If you are new to the history of crime fiction then this is probably a decent primer however, I found it hard work. There was nothing new in this book. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Thor Odinson
2.0 out of 5 stars An overview of the history of the subject
I love P.D. James' novels and so I read this anticipating some real insights into writing detective fiction. Read more
Published on 7 Jun 2012 by The Book Witch
4.0 out of 5 stars Listening to an expert
PD James has provided a short and very readable overview of detective fiction writing, justifying her view that the modern contributions to the genre merit being considered as... Read more
Published on 16 Feb 2012 by Serendipity
4.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent, insightful and informative
Written by one of our present day detective fiction masters, this slim volume contains a plethora of historical background, author analysis and exploration of writing methods. Read more
Published on 19 Dec 2011 by David Briddock
5.0 out of 5 stars a gem of a book
This is an extended essay, really. Beautifully written, with wit and style. Highly recommended for anyone who takes an interest in murder and those who write about it.
Published on 2 May 2011 by J. Robins
4.0 out of 5 stars Short but good
Short but incisive book. A gallop through the history of Detective Fiction. More like an essay or a lecture than a book but good all the same
Published on 28 Nov 2010 by W. P. WRIDE
4.0 out of 5 stars PD James the.doyenne of British crime writing
There is no doubt that PD James is the.doyenne of British crime writing. She recently celebrated her 90th birthday and is still going strong, with her latest novel in the... Read more
Published on 12 Oct 2010 by Mr Creepy
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