Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Talking About Detective Fiction with P.D. James

I have shelves and stacks of TBR books that I draw from when I am ready to start reading a new book, but when I am looking for an audio book I indulge in browsing. I walk up and down the aisles of my library and pull titles off the shelf that intrigue me or somehow catch my eye, then I read the backs, check how many disks are involved, and finally winnow down the selection to one or maybe two, if both are short.

That's how I selected my latest audio book, Talking About Detective Fiction, by P.D. James. Truth be told, the book is on my TBR shelf in all it hardbound glory, but I knew it would be years until I found the time to read it the old-fashioned way so I listened instead.

In a word, it was delightful! While I haven't actually read any of P.D. James's detective novels, I certainly have known of her reputation in the field and so valued what she had to say about the genre and how it has evolved over time. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on Sherlock Holmes and his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Golden Age of detective stories (i.e., the years between WWI and WWII) when Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, among others, were at their peak.

I have a weakness for books about books, the writing process, and what works and what doesn't in this particular genre. And, of course, came away with a list of authors I simply have to read. I think I'll start with G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown stories. I like the idea of a priest detective, which reminds me, I really need to read the latest in Julia Spencer-Fleming's wonderful Clare Ferguson/Russ Van Alstyne series, One Was a Soldier.

I did thumb through my printed version of the book after I was done listening to it in order to refresh my memory on a few points, and discovered that it is peppered with great New Yorker style cartoons. Here's one that I particularly enjoyed.

Finally, it's a funny book. James has a wry sense of humor that made me smile throughout. This was definitely a refreshing, fun read.


  1. I have to read this! I almost bought it earlier this week. The Dalgliesh mysteries are good, I really enjoy them.

  2. This sounds really great :-) I like books about writing and since I enjoy crime fiction I bet I'd love this.

  3. Always a pleasure to meet a fellow Sherlockian :)

    Have you read the pastiche "The House of Silk" by Anthony Horowitz and "Bending the Willow: Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes" by David Stuart Davies.

    The latter is a must read for fans of the Granada adaptation and/or Jeremy Brett.