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Talking About Detective Fiction

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  1,730 ratings  ·  312 reviews
Talking About Detective Fiction
Hardcover, 198 pages
Published December 1st 2009 by Knopf (first published September 23rd 2009)
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3.75  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,730 ratings  ·  312 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
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
Dimitris Passas
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
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
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.
Apr 07, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, audio
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
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
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
Nov 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
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.
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.
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
Christophe Van
Jul 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
(1) Informative, (2) opinionated based on experience and intellect, and (3) rendered with wit and style. Because of (2) and (3), this slender volume is very enjoyable even for experienced readers of detective fiction and the related meta-literature.
May 23, 2019 rated it liked it
A perfectly serviceable tour of British detective fiction, noteworthy only because it's written by a famous practitioner, but not especially benefiting from being written by a famous practitioner.
Mar 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
A short and very readable little book on the nature, charms, and enduring popularity of the detective novel, by an acknowledged master of the craft. One of my favorite bits was her discussion of the "rules" of detective fiction, as laid out by Ronald Knox in his preface to the anthology Best Detective Stories of 1928-29, which include no more than one secret room or passage, no hitherto undiscovered poisons or methods requiring long scientific explanation, and no Chinamen (!). Another entertaini ...more
Jun 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Spent my childhood reading not only my own books but my mother's, with an odd exception-- I rarely read her mystery novels. She had a particular section of the wall-sized bookcase in the den relegated to mystery writers, almost entirely slim paperbacks whose sensational covers very much reflected the aesthetic Gordon Lightfoot once described as belonging to " a paperback novel, the kind the drugstores sell." I'm indeed nostalgic for the days of paperbacks in the drugstore, but that's another mat ...more
Jun 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
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
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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
“All Jane Austen novels have a common storyline: an attractive and virtuous young woman surmounts difficulties to achieve marriage to the man of her choice. This is the age-long convention of the romantic novel, but with Jane Austen, what we have is Mills & Boon written by a genius.” 13 likes
“..he began drinking heavily and lived in a way which a friend described as making sense "only if he had no expectations of being alive much beyond Thursday".” 7 likes
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