... feminist, atheist, autistic academic and historic narrowboater ...
Likes snooker, beer, tea, rivets and solitude, and is strangely fascinated by the cinema organ.
And there might be something about railways.

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Most overrated? P.D. James

Just why is Baronness Phyllis Dorothy James so highly regarded as an author of detective fiction? Her plotting is mediocre and her plots outlandish; her characters are ciphers who strain credulity and are completely unengaging, and her dialogue clunks with exposition, moralising and amateur philosophising, while her hobby horses gallop all over the page. In P.D. James world, in 2003, women wear woollen blouses, police officers discuss whether they think a couple are 'going to bed' (for someone who is so coy about sex, she mentions it frequently, mostly quite gratuitiously to the plot) and everyone has a gas fire.

Now I've got that off my chest, I'm going to see whether 'Death in Holy Orders' can possibly be as bad as 'The Murder Room'.


  1. I agree that the books of hers that I've read are unsatisfying (though I've enjoyed some of the TV adaptations) but the author herself is very charming when I've heard her being interviewed on the radio - maybe that wins over all!

    Hope you had a good Christmas and here's to a fine year's cruising in 2012.

    Sue, nb Indigo Dream

  2. Currently reading "Death comes to Pemberley" - which is irritating me mightly. Yes, for me at least, nothing can ever aspire to come close to "Pride and Prejudice", but I had heard so much about how good PD James is/was, that I thought it might be OK as a starter to reading her work. It's not so much the characterisations, etc. etc. It's the bright moonlight while it's raining heavily that is jarring particularly. I know that you can have scudding clouds on a windy moonlight night, but to me it is incongruous to have characters with stinging rain in their faces while they search by moonlight (or at least doing some rather better scene setting). A good novel shouldn't have you irritated by small things, you shouldn't notice them - it should flow seamlessly. It's like those films where someone opens the front door to someone and they both just walk into the living room - I'm left thinking, "will someone go and shut that door?"

  3. Fully agree that P.D. James is a terrible writer, for the reasons you've given. Just finished A Certain Justice (I live in a remote place with few books): bad plot, plodding, unending descriptions of furniture and people's lips and eyes, trite tropes resulting in caricatures not characters, implausible psychological development (Octavia!) and the novella-long letter-within-the-novel from Janet Carpenter through the priest to Dalgliesh - all truly unbelievable. Oh, and isn't Dalgliesh just the Perfect Person? No faults, strong and silent, a detective and A POET in one! I've tried 2 Jameses now, and that's it.
    Anybody looking for a fantastic novelist? Larry McMurtry!