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Talking About Detective Fiction

3.72  ·  Rating Details ·  1,340 Ratings  ·  252 Reviews
P. D. James examines the genre of detective fiction from top to bottom, beginning with the mystery plots at the hearts of such novels as Great Expectations and Jane Eyre, and bringing us firmly into the present with such writers as Amanda Cross and Henning Mankell. Along the way she writes about Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Edgar Allan Poe, Wilki ...more
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published December 1st 2009 by Knopf Canada (first published September 23rd 2009)
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Nov 18, 2011 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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'm not sure what audience this book was pitched to - but I wasn't it. This is no slur on the work or the writer: I have an academic interest in detective fiction and a readerly interest in P.D. James' novels, and I was hoping for either deeper personal reflections on her life and writing, or a critical analysis of detective fiction as it relates to her work, in the style of A. S. Byatt, whose non-fiction critical work provides the other half of her thought. This was more of a gentle meander thr ...more
Apr 01, 2012 Tfitoby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jun 19, 2015 Julie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
P.D. James had a lovely way of laying out an argument and proceeding carefully through her topic, point by point. The history of detective fiction, as she shared it, broke no new ground but made me want to return to old favorites (Ngaio Marsh!) that I first read in my teens and early twenties. I particularly loved the chapter about the "Big Four" - Christie, Allingham, Sayers, and Marsh. The latter part of the book, which talked about the importance of setting and characterization, was also fasc ...more
Max Everhart
May 22, 2014 Max Everhart rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Aside from digging her work, particularly the Commander Adam Dalgliesh books, James has many brilliant insights on both British detective stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy Sayers as well as American hard-boiled fiction by Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald. Anytime a master of the genre writes what amounts to a How To Write and/or Interpret Great Detective Fiction book, a mystery novelist would be well-advised to read and take notes. . .which I did. I’ve cobbled together my favorite ...more
Liz Nutting
May 29, 2010 Liz Nutting rated it liked it  ·  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
Jim Coughenour
Jan 10, 2010 Jim Coughenour rated it it was ok  ·  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
Laurel Hicks
A nonagenarian crime fiction master talks about her craft. No mystery here, just good, brainy writing.
Mar 14, 2012 Vishy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 16, 2010 Wendy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, mystery
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
Feb 20, 2010 Chris rated it really liked it
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
Jul 03, 2011 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
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
Jun 08, 2015 Fanficfan44 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a fascinating non-fiction turn by P.D. James. In this book, she discusses the genre of detective fiction, the Golden Age of Mystery Writing, the “rules” of detective fiction, the rise of the hard boiled detectives, prominent female writers, and then individual components, setting, viewpoint and people. In particular she discusses that genre fiction has a place in writing just as literary fiction does.

"We can honour and celebrate the genius which produced Middlemarch, War and Peace, and
Dana Stabenow
Aug 05, 2014 Dana Stabenow rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 01, 2016 Catherine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not that I need to justify my voracious appetite for a classic detective story. But P.D. James, definitely a master of the genre, expresses beautifully why I enjoy reading Dorothy Sayers, Colin Dexter, Raymond Chandler, and of course, Agatha Christie. She also provides a succinct overview of the history of detective fiction in England, starting with Doyle and Wilkie, the ways in which the genre has evolved in terms of subject and form, and the ways in which the English writers differed from the ...more
Jul 08, 2016 Margarita rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hard-copy
A quick lesson on the history of British detective fiction

Unsurprisingly, there were multiple references to Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers and Raymond Chandler. What stood out, though, was P.D.James's insight into the evolution of the genre, partly driven by the chronological evens, such as the evolution of women's rights (Dorothy Sayers), and a general appetite for plot driven stories (Christie) compared to character driven stories (Doyle's Sherlock Holmes).

Mrs James did an
If you are interested in learning about detective fiction this is a good place to start. You may have to go no further. P. D. James, whose novels I have enjoyed reading, has written an informative, if not comprehensive, short book about detective fiction. Starting with references to the earliest examples of the genre in books like Charles Dicken's Bleak House, she discusses writers and their works including Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett and others. She discusses ...more
Jun 07, 2010 Christy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Rachel Heffington
Aug 27, 2013 Rachel Heffington rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 01, 2013 Joan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jacint Casademont
Aunque aprecio a la autora, destacada dentro del género, aquí ofrece entre poco y nada. Un repaso ligero, no acaba profundizando ni levemente en nada, lleno de tópicos que acaba aburriendo. Cierto que ya hay mucho ensayo sobre el tema, pero esperaba que ella aportara al menos algo personal que aportar. Pero no, Ni por asomo. Ya lo dice ella, que es un encargo y que tardó en ponerse en ello. Supongo que por pereza o falta de motivación.
Mar 09, 2016 Andrew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very good survey of Detective Fiction by the late,lamented crime-writer-cum-novelist, Phyllis James. She makes the case for a more respectful view of the subtle intricacies of the genre, often portrayed as fiction-fodder for spinsters & mouth-readers! I am neither; I'm a bachelor & I always read without moving my lips!
Jan 06, 2010 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Linda Abhors the New GR Design
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.
May 25, 2010 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Julie Thomason
Sep 14, 2014 Julie Thomason rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am a detective fiction junkie and I loved this erudite and clear analysis of the genre. I have never read any of P D James novels but enjoyed her autobiography immensely.
Sep 10, 2016 Vainvt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am an ardent fan of P. D. James, and although this book is not a mystery, it did not disappoint. Her insights, choices of quotes, and even her choices of illustrations, are right on. She thoroughly explores mysteries, their settings, characters, plots, and structures, and she opened my eyes to the elements of mystery writing. She also spends time exploring what it is about mysteries that entrances people like me.
The book is not without humor, and toward the end, she includes this marvelous plo
Sep 09, 2016 Bayneeta rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, audio
A brief (4 discs) overview of detective fiction by a well regarded British author. Discusses specific authors as well as recommended writing guidelines. Read by Diana Bishop. And now I will finally read The Moonstone.
Sep 10, 2016 Stacy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Perfect for British mystery lovers.
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P.D. (Phyllis Dorothy) James was the author of over 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 served as a magistrate and as a governor of th
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