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Talking About Detective Fiction

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  1,882 ratings  ·  346 reviews
P. D. James, the undisputed queen of mystery, gives us an intriguing, inspiring and idiosyncratic look at the genre she has spent her life perfecting.
Examining mystery from top to bottom, beginning with such classics as Charles Dickens's Bleak House and Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White, and then looking at such contemporary masters as Colin Dexter and Henning Mankel
Hardcover, 198 pages
Published December 1st 2009 by Alfred a Knopf (first published September 23rd 2009)
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Average rating 3.75  · 
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 ·  1,882 ratings  ·  346 reviews

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Mar 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Always up for a challenge, I took on an A-Z author challenge this year. For my J selection, I chose long time mystery writer P.D. James. Toward the end of her life, James penned an extended essay about the history of detective and mystery writing, mainly set in her native England but including a select few American detective writers as well. I found the essays to be informative, as James, through her expertise, relayed how modern mystery writing became to be.

The first prerequisite for a detectiv
Manuel Antão
Dec 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
Must read.

Wonderful survey of the Golden Age of British Crime Fiction. I discovered Margery Allingham while attending classes at the British Council a long time ago and I never looked back...

This book felt like little essays rather than something coherent and in-depth but it was still very enjoyable, and easy to dip in and out of.

I also felt that it was something P. D. James pulled together from lecture notes as opposed to a more detailed, thoughtful analysis of the mystery genre.

Nevertheless wo
Richard Derus
Dec 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rating: 4* of five

It's a wise idea to consult the masters of a genre that you want to enter prior to making a foray into it. I though this was going to be more of a how-to than it was; it's still valuable for a tyro to read the high-level musings of a practitioner of the art of detective fiction.

Not terribly useful as a how-to writing guide, but rather as a why-to genre joining guide.
Nov 29, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Nov 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Wendy Dranfield
Jan 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a really interesting look at the history of crime fiction, including Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie.

It's fascinating to consider how the genre has changed over the years and if, like me, you write crime fiction you'll enjoy the rules we are supposed to abide by and how fun it is to break them!
Mar 31, 2012 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
Mar 11, 2012 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
Dimitris Passas (TapTheLine)
Jun 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a must-read for every aspiring crime fiction writer, along with Patricia Highsmith's ''Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction'' and Stephen King's ''On Writing''. P.D. James is a more than experienced author and in this book, she shares some of her knowledge on how to write detective stories from the narrative and structure of a novel all the way until the plotting and characterization. There are plenty of references to other writers, English in their majority, which act as examples that ...more
Jim Coughenour
Jan 10, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
A somewhat disappointing overview of primarily British detective fiction from a highly respected recent author in the genre. Disappointing in several ways. First, don't read this if you haven't read all of Agatha Christie and all of Josephine Tey and a smattering of others. James, who ought to know better, spoils several plots in her meandering walk through the Golden Age of murder mysteries. Some of her spoilers are mere references, but she comes right out and tells you whodunnit in Christie an ...more
Mar 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As I read this little volume by P.D. James, I felt as though an older and wiser reader was filling in gaps in my knowledge of the Golden Age of detective fiction. I recommend this book to other readers who have some experience of reading mysteries and enjoy books about books. You may discover some authors or specific titles to add to your TBR list.
James Joyce
Nice, easy-going review of mystery fiction, from The Moonstone to modern day. Ish.

Mostly focused on Holmes and up to James's contemporaries. Covers attitudes, changes in approach, style, expectations of readers, etc.. Even has a section on American pulp mysteries.

A very nice overview and worth it, if you are a mystery fan.
Max Everhart
May 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent reader of James' text evokes the author's perspectives, slight prejudices, critical thoughts and very sentimental memories of experiencing interwar detective fiction. If you need a primer on who wrote what, take some time with this work. Excellent critical examination of 20th century detective fiction, with background in 19th century and some mention of early 21st century authors. James, as usual, is aces. ...more
On audio. I’m not a huge detective fiction reader but I’m gaining a taste for mystery as I get older. PD James is an authority. One of her key points: murder mysteries aren’t about murder; they’re about restoring order. If you like a learned soliloquy on a topic of lifelong affection and labor (and give a hoot about golden era mystery in particular), this is a good one.
Liz Nutting
Jan 11, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Apr 07, 2010 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
Sep 23, 2010 rated it liked it
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
James Henderson
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
Sep 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I read through this book rather rapidly. James's writing style always grabs me and I want to finish the book as soon as possible. I always enjoy her writing and find it very interesting.

This book was her version of a brief history of detective stories and how they were important to her. She also describes the importance of the stories and why people still read this genre well into the beginning of the 21st century.
Jul 23, 2012 rated it liked it
This is my second pass through this little book, so I skipped ahead in a few spots. I think P.D. James was one of the very best, so I am interested. A better title, however, would be Talking About the Golden Age of British Detective Fiction. I guess that would be too long, but more accurate. If that sounds good to you, you'll enjoy it. I did. ...more
Aug 26, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: books, detective
A nice overview of detective fiction with a heavy focus on British books and writers, particularly of the golden age of the genre between the World Wars. Interesting chapter on the American noir contribution.
DeAnna Knippling
May 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Sadly, this didn't resonate with me. PD James's writing is excellent and thoughtful, but...the book doesn't cover much. It's a book for people who aren't familiar with mysteries, but one that only people who are familiar with mysteries would want to read. ...more
Laurel Hicks
Jan 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
A nonagenarian crime fiction master talks about her craft. No mystery here, just good, brainy writing.
Eustacia Tan
Apr 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned
I can only theorise that the reason why this book lay unread for so long was because I wanted to save it. In its own way, the anticipation of a good book is almost as good as reading a good book. Luckily, I was not disappointed.

Talking About Detective Fiction is a discussion of the genre, from its definition and history, to famous women writers, the technical aspects, and criticism of the genre. And of course, there's a discussion of the modern day mystery (modern = 2009)

The whole book is really
Graeme Roberts
Dec 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
P. D. James provides great pleasure to lovers of mystery and detective fiction, examining the history of the genre and how it works, with examples from the legends, live and dead. Having read a number of her books, I enjoyed her inside stories:
My own detective novels, with rare exceptions, have been inspired by the place rather than by the method of murder or a character; an example is Devices and Desires which had its genesis while I was on a visit of exploration in East Anglia, standing on a
Aug 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
4 stars for enjoyment, but probably closer to 3 in terms of my expectations.

This wasn't the in-depth discussion of detective fiction that I hoped for considering P.D. James' mastery of the genre. James' discussions remain surface-level, and discuss the history of detective fiction more than its inner workings. She does touch on certain elements and how they evolved over time or how a few authors used them in unexpected ways. I would have enjoyed more of her thoughts from a writer's perspective,
Sonja Tyson
Sep 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mystery
Another great read. It's not a dissertation on the field of detective fiction, more of a rumination by James, both a writer and a fan of detective fiction. She focused primarily on English authors with a quick mention of the American hard-boiled detective tradition. She highlighted authors who had originated the genre, ones who had shaped the genre, women writers, and the already mentioned American authors. ...more
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Madison Mega-Mara...: # 3 Talking about Detective Fiction 1 2 Jan 17, 2015 02:22AM  

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P. D. James, byname of Phyllis Dorothy James White, Baroness James of Holland Park, (born August 3, 1920, Oxford, Oxfordshire, England—died November 27, 2014, Oxford), British mystery novelist best known for her fictional detective Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard.

The daughter of a middle-grade civil servant, James grew up in the university town of Cambridge. Her formal education, however, ended at

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