On Fridays the Women of Mystery honor an author recognized for her contribution to the mystery genre, and take a look at one of her novels.
After nearly six decades writing crime novels, best-selling British author P. D. James is much loved and going strong at 91. Her latest novel, Death Comes to Pemberley, was published
less than a year ago. It’s a sequel, believe it or not, to her beloved Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice. James has gone and done in one of Austin’s characters, and plays the whole cast in this dark riff.
She’s credited with transforming the traditional English detective novel. She was, and is, primarily drawn to plot, but unlike many of her predecessors of the Golden Age, she doesn’t use one-dimensional villains, sacrificing their humanity for the sake of the puzzle. Her villains are ordinary people, flawed and pressured beyond what they are capable of coping with, but not evil. In fact it is sometimes her victims who are most despicable, and their murders feel in some way like justice.
In Adam Dalgliesh books, which have won her fans all over the world, James intentionally drew a character she could live with for decades. She claims she planned it that way to avoid falling out of love with her detective, which is the problem that Agatha Christie ran into with Hercules Poirot. She says that Dalgliesh is a male version of her. Despite the adversity they’ve suffered, despite their shared sensitivity and literary bent (Dalgliesh is a poet) she says they are both without sentiment.
From A Taste for Death:
“It was eight forty-five and they were nearing the church, passing now into one of the low tunnels that spanned the canal. Darren, who liked best this part of the walk, gave a whoop and rushed into the tunnel, hollering for an echo and running his hands, like pale starfish, along the brick walls. She followed his leaping figure, half-dreading the moment when she would pass through the arch into that claustrophobic, dank, river-smelling darkness and would hear, unnaturally loud, the suck of the canal against the paving stones and the slow drip of water from the low roof. She quickened her pace, and within minutes the half moon of brightness at the end of the tunnel had widened to receive them again into the daylight and he was back, shivering at her side.”
A Taste for Death introduces the young inspector Kate Miskin, as strong as Dalgliesh and in some ways more interesting:
“The elation went deeper than mere ambition or the satisfaction of a test passed, a job well done. She had enjoyed herself. Every minute of her brief confrontation with that self-satisfied poseur had been deeply pleasurable. She thought of her first months with the CID, the plugging, conscientious, door-to-door enquiries which had made up her day, the pathetic victims, the even more pathetic villains. How much more satisfying was this sophisticated manhunt.”
The subject of P. D. James is huge and fascinating. Any favorite stories about her? Any favorites among her novels?