Over what is, in the U.S., a typically festive weekend, we were saddened to learn of the recent death of novelist and reigning “queen of crime” P.D. James. Having published her first novel in her early forties, she went on to write for more than half a century, creating unforgettable characters while examining thorny questions of life and society through the lens of fiction and against the backdrop of murder. This turn of mind came naturally to her. As reported by Marilyn Stasio of the New York Times:
“When I first heard that Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall,” she was fond of saying, “I immediately wondered: Did he fall — or was he pushed?”
Not just crime fans, but general fiction readers enjoyed her writing for its quality, and so—as is often heard from those reluctant to applaud well-written books if they're on the wrong shelves—her work was delared to have “transcended genre.” However, that was never this author's goal.
She told The Paris Review in 1995 that she “thought writing a detective story would be a wonderful apprenticeship for a ‘serious’ novelist, because a detective story is very easy to write badly but difficult to write well.”
The success of the first one persuaded her to stick with the form. “I came to believe,” she said, “that it is perfectly possible to remain within the constraints and conventions of the genre and be a serious writer, saying something true about men and women and their relationships and the society in which they live.”
She would go on to earn the title of Grandmaster from Mystery Writers of America and the Diamond Dagger Award from the U.K.'s Crime Writers Association, also a life membership in the House of Lords as Baroness James of Holland Park, granted for her extensive public service, not her literary fame. Do go read more about her fascinating life and wide-ranging work, and please raise with us a cup of excellent coffee and a chapbook of poetry for the creator of Scotland Yard's Commander Adam Dalgliesh.