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4.0 out of 5 stars Detective Fiction - an Insider's View, 4 Feb. 2010
This review is from: Talking About Detective Fiction (Hardcover)
P D James in this little roam around the genre pays proper tribute to the work of others, notably Julian Symons; it is to those authors we should look for a more exhaustive survey. Ms James, in her somewhat arbitrary choice of subjects, makes valid points about the essentials of detective fiction. If one cavils here and there, it is not to deny the pleasure this volume has given but rather to provide further food for thought.

For example, her enthusiasm for Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes is easy to share; but Holmes' frequent dependence on esoteric knowledge (sometimes retrieved from one of his cuttings books) hardly accords with Ms James' assertion that "... the reader shpuld be able to arrive at [a solution] by logical deduction from clues inserted in the novel ..." By the same token I seem to recall that when I read Dorothy Sayers' The Nine Tailors (admittedly many years ago), I felt slightly cheated because my knowledge of campanology left me floundering.

Again, the brief diversion into the American school of hard-boiled private eyes uncontroversially cites Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald, but it is sad to find no acknowledgment for Robert B Parker's Spenser, an authentic heir to Chandler's legacy.

There is much eulogising of the Golden Age - roughly the period between the wars - but it is only at the very end of the book that there is a nod towards the master of the locked room mystry, John Dickson Carr, who had much to do with my early addicition. Among modern writers Ms James finds room for C J Ransom and Matthew Shardlake (hear hear), and for Alexander McCall Smith's charming Mma Precious Ramotswe; but sadly there is not even a mention of Donna Leon whose intimate portrayal of Venice where Commissario Guido Brunetti operates as a most human policeman places her in the forefront of today's practitioners.

However, the very fact that one has been provoked into trading thoughts with Ms James merely emphasises what a success her slim book is. Do read it - and cavil if you will.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 21 Mar 2010 06:26:53 GMT
Red Rivere says:
Having read James' comments on Christie, I would challenge the idea that she is as well-informed on that author as is suggested here (see my amazon.com review for more detail).
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