Talking About Detective Fiction
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Talking About Detective Fiction

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  783 ratings  ·  194 reviews
In a perfect marriage of author and subject, P. D. James—one of the most widely admired writers of detective fiction at work today—gives us a personal, lively, illuminating exploration of the human appetite for mystery and mayhem, and of those writers who have satisfied it.

P. D. James examines the genre from top to bottom, beginning with the mysteries at the hearts of such...more
Hardcover, 144 pages
Published October 1st 2009 by Bodleian Library (first published 2009)
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I'll confess, I read this book because I wanted to see what one of my favorite authors had to say about my other favorite authors. However, this book is not just insight on Agatha, Marjorie and Dorothy; P.D. James actually discusses the processes she used (and continues to use) to create her wonderful mysteries. Yes, she talks about Sherlock, Father Brown, Lord Peter, Albert Campion, Miss Marple, Morse and Hercule Poirot, but she also discusses the origins of detective fiction, the "hard boiled"...more
I usually object to the term 'nice' being applied to a book but in this instance I will make an exception. This was a nice and accurate study of the history of the British detective novel written by somebody who is not only highly thought of in the field of detective fiction but most importantly a real fan of the genre.

I have never read a single novel from the pen of P.D. James (Cover Her Face is on the horizon now) but I can see why she is so popular in the detective story market, her passion f...more
Jim Coughenour
Jan 10, 2010 Jim Coughenour rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: no one, not even her fans
I'm sorry to say that this book is as dull as its title. I've read almost everything James has written – most recently The Private Patient, with the usual Jamesian cast of cultured hyper-constipated characters. This book is a rather dutiful, altogether unnecessary survey of (almost exclusively British) detective fiction. It's Wikipedia with a cream tea.

What I really wanted, I realized, was her take on her contemporaries – Gossiping About Detective Fiction. Surely she's possessed of juicy insight...more
Liz Nutting
May 29, 2010 Liz Nutting rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Mystery readers, especially those new to the genre.
In 1980, on the plane home to California for Christmas holidays, after my first semester at Bryn Mawr College, I opened Dorothy L. Sayers' Gaudy Night for the first time. The book had been thrust into my hands by some older classmates, who assured me that if nothing else, I would appreciate the descriptions of Oxford, whose soaring College Gothic architecture and quaint academic traditions would remind me of college life at Bryn Mawr (which had been consciously modeled on "Oxbridge" by M. Carey...more
This short discussion of the mystery genre will interest any fan, but particularly those of the classic English mystery. (Newcomers be warned, there are plenty of spoilers.) The writing style is a bit on the fussy and formal side, with a fair bit of filler (so-and-so is great, will always be remembered, yadda yadda yadda), but with some dry wit that made me laugh aloud several times. Each chapter also opens with an entertaining cartoon.

My main problem with the book was that in every area in whic...more
I started reading P. D. James a few years ago after I watched a television show on Agatha Christie. While I enjoyed the old Tommy and Tuppence series, I never could get into the books. James give me a reason why, and so I picked up one of her books and liked it.

This book is not a mystery but is about mysteries. It is well written; in fact, it is warmly written. James traces the development of the genre in a quick but asute way. She covers Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conon-Doyle, Nagio Marsh, Christie...more
A few days back I was looking for some light, breezy reading and when I looked at my bookshelves, ‘Talking about Detective Fiction’ by P.D.James leapt at me. So I took the book down from the shelf and read it. It was a fast read, and I finished reading it yesterday. Here is what I think.

What I think

In ‘Talking about Detective Fiction’ P.D.James gives an overview of British detective fiction in the past one hundred and fifty years. The key operative word here is ‘British’. She begins with how it...more
This book makes a valuable, if somewhat incomplete, survey of the mystery genre. I think it's most suited to readers like me, who enjoy a good detective story, but don't have a particularly good sense of the genre's history and scope, and could use a little help finding more stories that they will enjoy. It's particularly ideal for readers who enjoy British mysteries, and particularly those of the "Golden Age" of detective fiction (roughly the period between the two world wars). James devotes a...more
Rachel Heffington
It was Providence that my tiny small-town library had this wonderful book. From cover to cover I found James's assessment of the history of detective fiction captivating, informative, and helpful to any writer contemplating getting into the genre; not the worst thing about it was the fact that the author is over ninety years old and a confirmed veteran of detective-fiction-writing. Along with being a history and how-to, Talking About Detective Fiction is a celebration of the genre's greatest min...more
Grand dame of mystery P.D. James offers a concise look at the genre which has captivated readers worldwide from the Victorians onwards. As an advocate and a practitioner of the art, James relates the history of the detective novel (as opposed to the thriller, cop drama, or noir) where the emphasis is on a rational solution to disorder and chaos; describes the allure of detective fiction; introduces its stars, both writers and characters; and considers the psychology and ethics concerned. This is...more
P.D. James on detective fiction--is that a natural, or what? Ms. James' best observation about modern literature (in a book full of interesting observations about literature, modern and otherwise): "For a time in the late twentieth century it seemed that the story was losing its status and that psychological analysis, a complicated and occasionally inaccessible style, and an egotistic introspection were taking over from action. Happily there now seems to be a return to the art of storytelling."...more
I liked this book a lot. It gives a nice quick, condensed version of the history of Mystery/Detective Novels. I liked that P.D. James included both British and American authors because it didn't seem biased towards one or the other that way even though this book does lean primarily towards British mystery novels. It was nice to read about authors of mystery novels, both classics and modern authors and characters. I confess I am not very well versed in mystery novels so this book gave me a lot of...more
This is a very quick and very delightful read for anyone who loves mystery novels. It's a quick overview of the history of the genre and a discussion of the appeal of detective fiction. There are lots of examples (I have a few new authors and books I need to check out now!) and some great quotes. I can't wait to share this one with my Mystery Book Discussion Group.
P.D. James writes about the genre of detective fiction with panache and years of expertise. Her recounting of its history is both entertaining and perceptive, while her own insights on the craft are a valuable guide for both reader and writer. This book is definitely a keeper and money well spent.
Concise, clear, entertaining. She could have cited her sources, although she recognizes some of them. If a student did this, I'd fail them for it. But it's good enough that I've ordered my own copy.
Talking about Detective Fiction was written as a charitable contribution to the Bodleian Library at Oxford University by P D James, so that should be warning that it contains nothing abrasively controversial. It sounds like one-half of a fireside chat about detective fiction, Golden Age murder mysteries in particular; a review of the genre, not a textbook with footnotes.

The book clearly targets mystery storywriters and readers. It contains, for example, a chapter called “Critics and Aficionados...more
This is a short book discussing detective fiction as a genre by P. D. James, a contemporary master of crime fiction, and author of novels featuring the New Scotland Yard detective Adam Dalgliesh.

This book focuses mostly on British crime fiction, the only American authors discussed in depth being Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. James briefly traces the history of detective fiction, but has an in-depth discussion of crime writing during the Golden Age of detective fiction, the years betwee...more
My review

When you are looking for a new read, do you often find yourself heading towards the mystery section? Are you interested in history? "Talking about Detective Fiction" by P.D. James (who wrote the Adam Dalgliesh mysteries) covers the highlights of the history of the English detective novel, from its beginnings in the 1700s and 1800s to recent mystery fiction, including the Inspector Morse novels. James analyses the novels in light of the social history that influenced the time in which th...more
Arun Divakar
The one thing we all sustain and let grow in literature and movies is the the suffering of others. This explains why crime fiction is a raging genre at any point in time. I am no exclusion to this occurrence and relish a good thriller whether it be in on the pages or on the screen. Once, a good many years ago I tried my hand at P.D. James's work Death in the holy orders and I could not get beyond a few pages. Maybe it was the serial hero or something I could not fathom, I shelved the book.

Dana Stabenow
One of the problems with reading a book like this is that now I have a whole list of great crime fiction novels going back to the Golden Age on my to-read list. Damn Baroness James, damn her!

Otherwise, this is a lively little volume that examines the author's genre in a literate and often gently acerbic style. Of 221B Baker Street, she writes, "We also learn that the sitting room was Sherlock Holmes's office and the place where he received his visitors, which meant that Watson had to be banished...more
Borrowed overview from publisher notes:
In this book P.D. James "reviews everything "detective-fiction" from Charles Dickens’s Bleak House and Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White, 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 clarifies their individual styles, compares British and Ame...more
Who would know more about detective fiction than this world-class author? It was a treat to read her views and analyses of the genre although she did stick pretty much to the English variety. Of Americans mentioned, there were Chandler, Hammett, and Paretsky. She also mentions in passing several other non-Brits, but does not delve into their works. She starts off with Wilke Collins, then goes on to Conan Doyle, then jumps into what is k...more
Dorothyanne Brown
I love PD James' very wordy detective stories. I can wallow in them as well-written novels with a mystery plot, or race through them as a regular mystery. She is a favourite and I only wish there were more of her novels about.

This book of James' thoughts about detective fiction is also very well written. I never felt the urge to put it down, but neither did I feel that I was getting much other than an afternoon's enjoyment out of it. I suppose it is difficult for most writers to explain how they...more
Lourdes Fernandez Venard
P.D. James give a concise history of the detective genre, and you can tell she knows her stuff, from Wilkie Collin's "The Moonstone" to contemporary crime fiction characters such as Ian Rankin's Rebus. While others have written histories of mysteries, with James we get her viewpoint -- and she's certainly not shy about expressing her own opinions. Of Agatha Christie, she writes that "perhaps her greatest strength was that she never overstepped the limits of her talent" -- but she's also generous...more
Richard Thompson
James’ thoughts on the history and art of the detective story with a strong emphasis on the early years of the form, the Sherlock Holmes legacy and the Golden Age (the Twenties and Thirties). Her praise for Edmund Crispin’s books particularly caught my eye, and I have since been able to find a copy of his BURIED WITH PLEASURE at our public library; I enjoyed it a lot (my review is on my mystery shelf) and will look for more. The chapter entitled Four Formidable Women looks in some detail at the...more
This was a delightful excursion into a genre from which I have read very little, but Elizabeth Owen's five-star rating made me download it to my Kindle, and I'm so glad I did! P.D. James is the perfect guide, both from her expertise as well as her longevity in the genre, but what she shared primarily was her joy and appreciation for the genre as a reader. The book traced the beginnings of detective fiction up to the present and discussed the author's choices for the top authors of the genre and...more
It's no more than you'd expect that such an intelligent woman and such a good writer would come up with a clear and perceptive survey of her genre, leavened with enough personal observations to avoid disappointment on that score. I particularly liked her observations on Dorothy L. Sayers, who is obviously a favourite.

There is a freshness here that reminds us that James does not come from a lit-crit background, rather a scientific one that allows her to marshal her thoughts very logically and wit...more
Joe  Noir
P.D. James is an intelligent, erudite, articulate, and sophisticated woman. Reading this book is very much like talking about detective fiction with her. Not at all like a lecture, as it would be with some authors. It's a slim, fast read. You can polish this off in an evening, with time to spare. While mostly concerned with British mysteries, she does save a chapter for Chandler, Hammett, and Ross MacDonald. What she has to say about them rings true. She is obviously fond of Dorothy L. Sayers an...more
Kathleen Jones
I love P.D. James' novels and so I read this anticipating some real insights into writing detective fiction. I was very disappointed by it, but then I realised that I was probably expecting more than the writer set out to deliver. It is just 'talking about' the subject - nothing more profound. What disappointed me most was that the chapters were simply a pass through the history of the detective novel - she concentrates on the 'classic' books and talks about Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, Dor...more
Courtney Johnston
I've never thought deeply about detective novels. I've read a lot of Dorothy L. Sayers (I like to blame this small hankering for twee-ness on a 20 year hangover from all the Enid Blyton I consumed as a kid) and a couple of Ngaio Marshs and, on Michael Chabon's advice, fell deeply for Sherlock Holmes last year. But I'm certainly not an aficiando nor a reader of contemporary authors.

So I'm not sure what drew me to this slim hardback by P.D. James, but I'm grateful for it. Firstly, James has a mar...more
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P. D. James is the author of twenty books, most of which have been filmed and broadcast on television in the United States and other countries. She spent thirty years in various departments of the British Civil Service, including the Police and Criminal Law Department of Great Britain's Home Office. She has served as a magistrate and as a governor of the BBC. In 2000 she...more
More about P.D. James...
Death Comes to Pemberley The Children of Men Cover Her Face (Adam Dalgliesh, #1) Shroud for a Nightingale (Adam Dalgliesh, #4) The Private Patient (Adam Dalgliesh, #14)

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