Friday, November 28, 2014

Goodbye, P D James


British Mystery Novelist P.D. James Dies At 94

Author P.D. James, whose publisher says died at age 94.
Author P.D. James, whose publisher says died at age 94.
Ulla Montan/AP
British mystery and crime novelist P.D. James, whose best-known works featured poet and Scotland Yard detective Adam Dalgliesh as a protagonist, has died at age 94, her publisher says.
Phyllis Dorothy James, a baroness and award-winning writer of such books as Shroud for a Nightingale, The Black Tower and The Murder Room, was born in Oxford began writing in her late 30s and published her first novel, Cover Her Face, in 1962.
A statement from publisher Knopf quoted Charles Elliott, her longtime editor, as saying: "Phyllis broke the bounds of the mystery genre. Her books were in a class of their own, consistently entertaining yet as well-written and serious as any fiction of our time. She was, moreover, a delight to be around and work with, beloved by readers and her publishers around the world. We will all miss her." says James took up writing as a means to support her family after her husband, a World War II veteran, was incapacitated by mental illness. Cover Her Face was written in the evenings and during her commute to a job in Britain's National Health Service, the website says.
According to
"Dubbed the 'Queen of Crime,' James went on to write 13 more Dalgliesh murder mysteries. Many of them were set in enclosed communities, illuminating the tensions and violence that can erupt amongst tightly knit groups of people. Shroud for a Nightingale, published in 1971, is set at a nursing school, and Original Sin (1994) at a small publishing house in London; Death in Holy Orders (2001) probes the motives behind a killing at a theological college, and the final Dalgliesh mystery, The Private Patient (published in 2008), unfolds at a private plastic surgery clinic in an English manor house."
In 2011, James was interviewed by NPR's Linda Wertheimer for the release of what became her final novel, Death Comes to Pemberley.
"I had this idea at the back of my mind that I'd like to combine my two great enthusiasms," James told Wertheimer. "One is for the novels of Jane Austen and the second is for writing detective fiction."
On the definition of a mystery novel, she said:
"What we have is a central mysterious crime, which is usually murder. We have a closed circle of suspects, with means, motive and opportunity for the crime. We have a detective who can be amateur or professional who comes in rather like an avenging deity to solve it. And by the end, we do get a solution."

    She certainly created an impressive and interesting career for herself--I knew about her previous career in public health, but not the financial pressure caused by the mental illness of her husband. PD James produced literary novels that were a pleasure to read and re-read over the decades. I loved reading about Dalgliesh, his work colleagues, the Yard, and family and friends over the decades. Other favorites were probably the Cordelia Grey novels--An Unsuitable Job for a Woman appealed to me on multiple levels. Ms James (would her official title be Dame or Baroness?) and work will be missed, but her intelligent novels will endure for generations.

    Her title was Baroness James of Holland Park, and she sat in the house of lords as a member of the Conservative party.

    Coincidentally, fellow crime author Ruth Rendall also sits in the House of Lords, but on the Labour side.

  • P.D. James was better than any other author I've encountered at accurately portraying the dark side of human nature. She understood the psychology of the dysfunctional, abusive family and the resulting damage to the psyche and brain quite well. On top of that, she was an excellent storyteller - several of her books left me stunned by endings both apropos and unexpected. I'm sorry she's gone but I'm so glad she was here.

  • What are "book-known" works? Could it possibly be "best-known" works? For the love of Strunk and White, NPR, get a decent copy editor, willya?

    True, and while I grew up with Strunk and White, might I suggest a good carpenter to take the stick out of your derriere (sp?).

    Oh, I loved PD James. I hope there's a huge trove of unpublished work of hers. I can't bear that there will be no new books to look forward to. Though she was writing one before she died. I hope she finished it.
    Thank you for all the words.

    Having read the unfinished works by Dorothy L. Sayers, as completed by Jill Paton Walsh, and further Peter Wimsey novels by JPW, I'd rather no one attempted to "complete" a PD James novel. JPW may have brought closure to the Wimsey character, but the work was not up to the mark.

  • Who killed P.D. James?

    There are rumors about it was a serial killer who goes by the name "Grim Reaper".

    Preferably the one from Discworld. Guess they needed another collaborator at the Great Mystery Symposium From Beyond. They should release a heck of an anthology with the lineup: James, Agatha Christie, Dashiel Hamett, Raymond Chandler, Conan Doyle, Paul Feval, Gaston Leraux, Maurice Leblanc, Poe, Dorothy Sayers....

    Someone get Adam Dalgliesh on the phone!

    I'm guessing she'd be thrilled to read this comment thread. RIP, Ms James, wherever you are "resting"....Thank you for keeping me turning the page.

    Wow. I certainly did love her books., a true loss. Tha Children Of Men was one of my favorites.

  • One of the best contemporary mystery writers EVER. She'll be missed.

  • RIP, Ms James.

    Could find a more flattering photograph of the Baroness?

  • was it muuuurdeeeer?

    Source: NPR

    Saturday, September 11, 2010

    Death of an Expert Witness - P D James

    P D James has just celebrated her 90th birthday and, as she is one of my favourite mystery writers, I thought I should celebrate too. I’ve reread Death of an Expert Witness and, as it’s been many years since I read it, it was just like reading a new book as I’d forgotten all the details. Death of an Expert Witness was published in 1977. P D James was a well-established writer by this time. Her first novel, Cover Her Face, was published in 1962 & her latest novel, The Private Patient, was published in 2008. I hope it won’t be the last, although there was certainly an elegiac feel about it. Lots of loose ends in the personal & professional life of her detective, Adam Dalgliesh, were tied up & it was a fitting end to the series if it is the end.

    Adam Dalgliesh is one of the most enigmatic detectives in crime fiction. Like all the best detectives – Wexford, Poirot, Jane Marple – he arrived on the scene fully formed & has aged so slowly that he seems scarcely older in the latest book than he did in Death of an Expert Witness, published over 30 years before. Dalgliesh grew up in a Norfolk rectory; lost his wife & only child in childbirth just before the first book was written; has had several unsatisfactory relationships since but has only recently met the right woman, Emma Lavenham, proposed to her & been accepted. He is also a poet & this only adds to his air of mystery & detachment.

    P D James is the heir of the great Golden Age writers, especially Dorothy L Sayers, who she greatly admires. I have a BBC audio production of Gaudy Night & at the end of the story, there’s an interview with P D James & Jill Paton Walsh, a novelist who has written continuations of some of the Wimsey novels. She has a new book coming out very soon, The Attenbury Emeralds, that I’m looking forward to reading. The interviewer was quite out of her depth, obviously knew very little about Sayers, but James & Paton Walsh were marvellous in their depth of knowledge & their enthusiasm for Sayers as a woman & for her work. That knowledge & enthusiasm for the Golden Age conventions of mystery fiction is obvious in her work.

    P D James works within the conventions of the traditional murder mystery. Her books often have a closed circle of suspects like the stately home mysteries of the 30s. The locations are closed communities such as religious institutions, schools, hospitals, legal chambers or a publishing house. In Death of an Expert Witness, it’s a forensic laboratory in the fens of Norfolk. Place is very important to James. She has said that her books often begin with a place, a landscape. She builds up a picture of a group of people. Murder shockingly intrudes on the lives of the characters & Dalgliesh & his team must bring order out of chaos. In Death of an Expert Witness the first 50pp introduce the reader to the scientists, pathologists, police officers & clerical staff of the Hoggatt’s Forensic Science lab. Edwin Lorrimer, the Senior Biologist, is a stern, secretive man. He was overlooked for the post of Director of the lab, he’s tormented by the end of a love affair & he is unforgiving in his treatment of any of his staff who can’t meet his high professional standards. When he is murdered in his laboratory there are many suspects & Dalgliesh needs all his skill to discover which of these people was driven to murder.

    Much as I enjoy a good murder, I think my favourite book by P D James isn’t a murder mystery at all. In 1999, she published Time to be in Earnest, a diary of her 77th year. I found this book fascinating. I love diaries & letters but this was more than just a diary. It’s the closest thing to a memoir or autobiography we’re likely to get from P D James. She knew she was writing for publication & so she uses the diary to look back over her life. She talks about her childhood, her marriage, her work in various government jobs, all of which gave her valuable material for her books & her thoughts about life in Britain in the 1990s. She talks about her favourite writers, how & why she writes, her long relationship with her publishers & agents, all the minutiae of a writer’s life. She is also an incredibly busy woman, attending meetings & events connected with her work for the Society of Authors, the BBC, House of Lords & the Church of England.

    I love reading about detective fiction as much as I enjoy reading the novels themselves. P D James wrote a wonderful book last year called Talking About Detective Fiction. It was written to raise funds for Oxford’s Bodleian Library. This little book, only 150pp, is a history of the detective novel with special emphasis on the writers James most admires. The core of the book for me was her discussion of the four great women writers of the Golden Age – Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Margery Allingham & Ngaio Marsh. She feels an obvious affinity with these writers & has an appreciation of their strengths & the appeal they had in their own time & analyses the influence they’ve had on the writers who came after them. If you want a concise history of the best detective fiction of the last century, there could be no better guide than P D James.

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    Introduction I'm an avid reader who loves middlebrow fiction, 19th century novels, WWI & WWII literature, Golden Age mysteries & history. Other interests include listening to classical music, drinking tea, baking cakes, planning my rose garden & enjoying the antics of my cats, Lucky & Phoebe. Contact me at lynabby16AThotmailDOTcom

Inside the Locked Room

A Certain Justice: An Adam Dalgliesh Mystery

by P.D. James
Knopf, 364 pp., $25.00
So it is here at last, the distinguished thing!”
Henry James, on his deathbed

Henry James’s famous final words might be the epigraph for the literary genre we call mystery/detective. In these usually tightly plotted, formulaic novels a corpse is often discovered as soon as the reader opens the book:
The corpse without hands lay in the bottom of a small sailing dinghy drifting just within sight of the Suffolk coast. It was the body of a middle-aged man, a dapper little cadaver, its shroud a dark pin-striped suit which fitted the narrow body as elegantly in death as it had in life…. He had dressed with careful orthodoxy for the town, this hapless voyager; not for this lonely sea; nor for this death.
—P.D. James, Unnatural Causes (1967)

On the morning of Bernie Pryde’s death—or it may have been the morning after, since Bernie died at his own convenience, nor did he think the estimated time of his departure worth recording—Cordelia was caught in a breakdown of the Bakerloo Line outside Lambeth North and was half an hour late at the office.
—P.D. James, An UnsuitableJob for a Woman (1972)

The bodies were discovered at eight forty-five on the morning of Wednesday 18 September by Miss Emily Wharton, a sixty-five-year-old spinster of the parish of St. Matthew’s in Paddington, London, and Darren Wilkes, aged ten, of no particular parish as far as he knew or cared.
—P.D. James, A Taste for Death (1986)

The Whistler’s fourth victim was his youngest, Valerie Mitchell, aged fifteen years, eight months and four days, and she died because she missed the 9:40 bus from Easthaven to Cobb’s Marsh.
—P.D. James, Devices and Desires (1989)

In A Certain Justice, P.D. James’s new, fourteenth novel, the opening is given a stylish aerial perspective that suggests something of the novel’s sophisticated variant on the old form:
Murderers do not usually give their victims notice. This is one death which, however terrible that last second of appalled realization, comes mercifully unburdened with anticipatory terror. When, on the afternoon of Wednesday, 11 September, Venetia Aldridge stood up to cross-examine the prosecution’s chief witness in the case of Regina v. Ashe, she had four weeks, four hours and fifty minutes left of life.
In this essentially conservative and conventional genre, form always mirrors content, and the principle of equilibrium that has been violated at the outset of the novel must be restored, at least to the reader’s satisfaction; that is, mystery must be “solved”—or dissolved. The chaos and general messiness of actual life with which the traditional novel contends can’t be the subject of mystery/detective fiction, for its premise is that mystery, the mysterious, that-which-is-not-known, can be caused to be known and its malevolent power dissolved. Of course, in superior examples of the genre, which would include most of P.D. James’s novels, there are ironic qualifications …

...and I am Sid Harth

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