P.D. James’s Mysteries

7382105.gif I finished listening to P.D. James’s mystery novel The Murder Room, and what a fun book it was! I have become a P.D. James fan. In fact, I liked it so much, I went to the library over the weekend to check out another James novel, Devices and Desires, another Adam Dalgliesh mystery. This time I’m reading it instead of listening; I miss having a narrator read the story to me — I miss the voice and the accent — but I like how I can read at my own pace and can back up to catch something I missed without having to push any buttons.

I liked how The Murder Room is long and detailed and takes its time telling the story. James has a large cast of characters, and she lingers over the introduction to each one, telling his or her story in depth. There isn’t anything gratuitous in it, but she never skimps on detail either. It’s a story to get lost in. She takes time to describe rooms and settings and landscape, as well as the characters’ thoughts and moods. It has a slow pace, but in a good way; it’s the kind of slow pace that creates a rich atmosphere you enjoy spending time in.

The story is about murders that take place in the Dupayne museum, a museum devoted to the history of the 1920s and 1930s. It’s a small museum with a modest number of visitors, but those who work there and those who visit are a loyal group who want to keep the museum going. But now its future is uncertain as the building is up for a new lease and one of the trustees doesn’t want to sign it. This leaves a lot of possible suspects when this trustee is found murdered …

Part of the appeal of the novel is the way it focuses on the small world of the museum, which has its own culture and history and a hierarchy of people, from the gardener and the housekeeper to the volunteers to the curator and the trustees. These people have worked together for long enough they know each other’s habits and personalities, but still, of course, many secrets remain.

I found myself much more interested in the interaction of the characters than in the mystery itself. I’m not sure if this is just me, or if the mystery aspect of the novel isn’t terribly exciting. When the murderer was revealed, I was surprised, but not particularly intrigued; it didn’t make me think about the earlier parts of the novel to try to put the clues together or to wonder if I could have figured it out if I’d paid more attention. Actually, I never figure out mysteries and can hardly ever predict the endings of novels, except certain kinds of 18C and 19C novels that always end in a marriage between the two virtuous characters. Generally I don’t even try to figure out how things will turn out. Hobgoblin will often be able to predict the ending only a few chapters into a book, but my mind just doesn’t work that way. Perhaps I’m a more passive reader, taking things in as they are given to me and not trying to work out where it’s all heading. Or maybe it’s that I want the experience of a sudden revelation all at the end, the pleasure of seeing how everything fits together all at once. I really think, though, that I never figure mysteries out because I’m not so much interested in the puzzle of it, but rather in the human interaction that takes place along the way. When I enjoy mysteries it’s because I like the protagonist, not because I want to see if I can figure out the clues.

Oh, I just saw that Danielle is reading Devices and Desires, the one I just started, and has similar things to say about the characters vs. the mystery aspect of the story.


Filed under Books, Fiction

10 responses to “P.D. James’s Mysteries

  1. I read Cover Her Face by James a while back and found myself similarly more interested in the character development than the progression of the crime. For someone who wants a more thoughtful strain of mystery writing, this is a good choice.

    They remind me a bit of Miss Marple stories as those centered around the theme of “human nature” being the same everywhere and dictating the nature of the crime.


  2. Cam

    I bought a PD James novel earlier this year, after being told repeatedly that Children of Men was unlike the corpus of her work (although I liked the movie, I had a tepid response to the novel). Whatever novel I bought, I have yet to read it. Not even sure which book pile it is in. However, your review makes me think that I should go find it. I’ve been told that there is a subtle religious philosophy/spirituality to her work. Have you found that in the works of hers that you’ve read? I thought it was heavy-handed and distracting from the work in Children of Men.


  3. I really like P D James. I think she has a beautifully clean style of writing. I also loved Death in Holy Orders and Original Sin by her.


  4. So it isn’t just the novel I’m reading. I really like her style as well. She is slow and descriptive–but in a good way. I’m not one to figure out the mystery usually either. If I have it figured out early on, it is usually a sign the writer is new to the genre–I like the trickier sorts of books that are harder to figure out. I have The Murder Room as well and a couple of others to look forward to.


  5. I have a couple of P.D. James books just waiting for me. I’m on a bit of a mystery kick right now so maybe I’ll go look for one. I read Cover Her Face, which I think is the first in the series, and really enjoyed it.


  6. I’m a P. D. James and Adam Dalgliesh fan as well. The last one I read was The Lighthouse, which of course, I enjoyed.


  7. Amateurish — this seems to be a common response, then, to be more interested in the characters than the crime. Interesting! I’d like to read Cover Her Face, as it starts the series off.

    Cam — I’ve noticed an interest in philosophical ways of thinking about human nature, definitely — she has thoughtful passages where she speculates on human nature and why people act as they do. I haven’t noticed a specifically religious element yet, although the theme might be developing in my current read; it’s too soon to tell for sure.

    Litlove — well, I’ll have to try those two out then!

    BettyBetty — thanks for tagging me!

    Danielle — I agree, if I’ve figured out the ending, the novel must not be very good! I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on Devices and Desires as you read more of it!

    Iliana — I’m glad you liked that one; I’m curious what the first book in the series is like.

    Jenclair — oh, another one to add to the list! I’m glad I have so many of her novels ahead of me to enjoy.


  8. Yay for PD James! I haven’t read this one. I will have to get a copy one of these days. I’ve heard James say that she doesn’t consider herself a true mystery writer, she prefers to write stories that happen to have mysteries in them.


  9. LK

    The only novel of PD James I’ve read was Shroud for a Nightingale. But as I recall, I really enjoyed it.


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