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Talking About Detective Fiction Paperback – 7 Oct 2010

4 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Paperback, 7 Oct 2010

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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 1.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 164,854 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


Elegant and thoughtful ... It is PD James's longevity, as well as her serene intelligence, that makes this book especially noteworthy and enjoyable ... If you want to extend you own reading, discover new authors or clarify your thoughts, this is an excellent way to do so. -- Amanda Craig --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Book Description

A celebration of the best in crime writing through the ages from the world's pre-eminent crime writer and author of many bestselling titles including Death Comes to Pemberley and Children of Men.

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Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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By Eleanor TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 10 May 2011
Format: Paperback
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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