Why PD James is my favorite mystery writer


I just finished another Adam Dalgliesh book, A Certain Justice.  Adam Dalgliesh is the main character of fourteen mystery novels. I like mysteries more than science fiction, westerns, horror and thrillers—but less than memoirs, travel, histories and humor.  I prefer spacing mysteries out, inserting them between heavier reading.  And my “go to” mystery writer is P.D. James. 

The mystery part of the book is always secondary for me.  I love the culture, the commentary, the specificity behind James’ writing. One of her characters doesn’t turn on classical music while he drives; he listens to Elgar’s Serenade for Strings

James is conversant in the Bible and The Book of Common Prayer.  If you know your Books, you will recognize phrases and allusions.  Adam Dalgliesh is the son of an Anglican rector, who embraces the trappings of his childhood but does not hold to the faith of his father.  Theological and philosophical questions are naturally raised. Death is present in every book (she is, after all, a murder mystery writer); reckoning with mortality tends to get one beyond the mundane.  

And she is British.  (happy sigh)   

Here is a sampler from A Certain Justice.

Do you want a cup of tea?  A cup of tea.  That English remedy for grief, shock and human mortality.

The affair now was beginning to have some of the longueurs of marriage, but with none of marriage’s reassuring safety and comfort.

But there was in his bearing the innate dignity of a man who is at ease with his work, does it well and knows that he is valued.

What I wrote when I first discovered P.D. James


13 thoughts on “Why PD James is my favorite mystery writer

  1. Carol,Did you know that Adam Dagliesh is my special literary crush?  (-:Have you seen either of the guys who play him in the TV shows?  I have my opinion on which one is “perfect” (big shock…I have an OPINION) but I’d love to know your thoughts.DI

  2. I’m sure that you know of another famous British woman detective novel writer, albeit from an earlier time, and that is Dorothy Sayers.I have a lot of respect for her and her theological insights, especially as expressed in “The Mind of the Maker”.  (She and C.S. Lewis knew each other.)

  3. @jackug – That just shows how forgetful I am.  I have greatly enjoyed Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane.  I have a blog post stewing in my mind about literary references in books.  My son showed me where Wodehouse’s Wooster mentions Lord Peter and a book where Lord Peter references Jeeves.  Too much fun!  (showing my hand)  In A Certain Justice AD interviews a woman who is typical of those who keep a church going. Because of his background AD is thoroughly familiar with her kind.  She was, PD James comments, one of Barbara Pym’s excellent women.  I read Excellent Women last year and caught the reference.Another mystery that I’m just getting around to thinking about reviewing, The Footsteps at the Lock, has a reference to Jerome K. Jerome (Three Men in a Boat).  Had I read Footsteps two years ago, I wouldn’t have caught that one.That sort of stuff gives me a charge of delight.Thanks for the comment.PS – the most recent Sayers I read was Letters to a Diminished Church.  My memory (?!!!) tells me it was excellent.

  4. I love, love, love her, too. And I know you’re not a huge sci fi fan, but her dystopian novel Children of Men is really extraordinary – and nothing like the horrible film adaptation that came out.I’ve been reading the World War I mysteries by Anne Perry on my sister’s recommendation and they are so, so wonderful! The first one is No Graves as Yet – have you read them?Carrie

  5. @magistramater – Okay, Carol, you simply must, must, MUST read Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog.  It is stuffed FULL of literary and cultural references and is loosely founded on _Three Men in a Boat_.  And it’s set in Britain. And it involves a mystery (or many little mysteries, rather!). And it’s the funniest book I have ever read.  Or better yet, listen to the Recorded Books version.  You will adore it!  I wrote about it briefly here: http://womanofthehouse-blog.blogspot.com/2010/07/more-summer-reading.html

  6. @womanofthehouse1 – To Say Nothing of the Dog has been on my radar for a while.  I remember reading your review last summer.  My Library2Go has the audio version, so I will download it soon.  Thanks for the reminder!PS – I’m listening to a delicious Barbara Pym right now.

  7. Oh, yes, Carol, I second the motion for To Say Nothing of the Dog, and also Willis’s other books that takes place in the future/past The Doomsday Book. I think you’ll love them both.

  8. THANK YOU! I’ve never read P.D. James before, and you’ve convinced me to do so.  I now have a treasure trove to look forward to delving into.  I’ve mentioned before that I’m an Anglophile…I feel sure I’ll get a great deal of pleasure from spending time in James’ world.

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