Talking About Detective Fiction. Finished 9-9-16, rating 3/5, readers reference, 198 pages, pub. 2009
Unabridged audio read by Diana Bishop.
P. D. James examines the genre from top to bottom, beginning with the mysteries at the hearts of such novels as Charles Dickens’s Bleak House and Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White, and bringing us into the present with such writers as Colin Dexter and Henning Mankell. Along the way she writes about Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie (“arch-breaker of rules”), Josephine Tey, Dashiell Hammett, and Peter Lovesey, among many others. She traces their lives into and out of their fiction, clarifies their individual styles, and gives us indelible portraits of the characters they’ve created, from Sherlock Holmes to Sara Paretsky’s sexually liberated female investigator, V. I. Warshawski. She compares British and American Golden Age mystery writing. She discusses detective fiction as social history, the stylistic components of the genre, her own process of writing, how critics have reacted over the years, and what she sees as a renewal of detective fiction—and of the detective hero—in recent years. from Goodreads
I listened to the audio for the first half of PD James’s Talking About Detective Fiction and was a little bored so I switched to the paper version. And had the same problem. The book is about the history of detective fiction, mostly British. She names the best of the best and goes into the model of what makes a mystery great. I don’t read enough of the classic mystery writers. Sure, I’m a somewhat recent fan of Agatha Christie, but many of the others I’m not familiar with at all. Readers more well versed in detective fiction than I am would probably get more enjoyment than I did. When she talked about a few of the books I read (ie. The Woman in White) I was more engaged.
She gave a shortlist for the four most important women in the genre’s golden age and I’ll be trying the others soon. She chose Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh.
I think it would be a great place to start for anyone interested in writing a detective novel since it gives you the basics and a great reading list.