Review: Talking About Detective Fiction, P.D. James

Okay, I know you remember that I said no more books I can get at home. I know I know I know. I realize this post means that Diary of a Provincial Lady was not my last exception to the rule. Actually the rule was, I will only read books that I cannot get when I am at home, unless the author gives his or her name as two initials followed by a surname. Please do not be perturbed by my Orwellian alteration of a previously established rule.

P.D. James, acclaimed writer of detective fiction, has a number of things to say about the genre, as you may imagine. She spoke of Agatha Christie and of Dorothy Sayers, and of how detective writers enjoy (as they should) a lovely country house mystery, with a finite number of suspects to play with. I liked it when she complimented Agatha Christie. I appreciate compliments to Agatha Christie’s cleverness at mysteries: James gave an example of a book in which a butler peers at the clock; and you are given to understand that this is a clue relating to times and dates, when in fact the clue is that the butler is short-sighted. That is clever! Agatha Christie! She’s clever!

I don’t read that much detective fiction, actually, and thus I have very little to say about this book. Agatha Christie (for the cleverness) and Dorothy Sayers (for the superb writing and for Harriet Vane) and Elizabeth Peters (for being hilarious) and that, I believe, is it. But I like reading books about books – I have made a special section on my TBR list for books about books, although it is rather short because there are not enough books about books. I am contemplating renaming the section and including books about words in it as well.

What I do have to say about this book: P.D. James said something about the “reprehensible expedient” of reading the end of a book. Reprehensible expedient! I do not do it as a reprehensible expedient! I do it because it is joyful! P.D. James hurt my feelings when she said that. I snapped the book shut and said “YOU are a reprehensible expedient!” And then I remembered that P.D. James is ninety, and it’s not nice to call ninety-year-old women a reprehensible expedient. Or anyone really. In my defense, it is unbelievably hot this week, and being hot all day every day makes me a less nice person.

My method of reading is perfectly valid and I stand by it. But I have been considering doing an experiment later on this year, maybe in September, where I take one whole month, and throughout that entire month, I don’t read ahead in any book whatsoever for any reason. What do you think? Attempt the experiment, in a spirit of true scientific inquiry, risking the possibility that I won’t enjoy any single book I read in September? Or maintain my customary reading methods without a sustained effort to appreciate the other side’s view?

Other people that read it:

A Striped Armchair
A Work in Progress
Fleur Fisher Reads
Lost in Books
A Bibliophilist’s Reading List

Did I miss yours?