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Open that window, Miss Menzies

Patricia Craig, 7 August 1986

A Taste for Death 
by P.D. James.
Faber, 454 pp., £9.95, June 1986, 0 571 13799 7
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A Dark-Adapted Eye 
by Barbara Vine.
Viking, 300 pp., £9.95, March 1986, 0 670 80976 4
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Dead Men’s Morris 
by Gladys Mitchell.
Joseph, 247 pp., £9.95, April 1986, 0 7181 2553 3
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Laurels are poison 
by Gladys Mitchell.
Hogarth, 237 pp., £2.95, June 1986, 0 7012 1010 9
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Dido and Pa 
by Joan Aiken.
Cape, 251 pp., £7.95, June 1986, 0 224 02364 0
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... The epigraphs of P.D. James (now that she has taken to using them) are important. ‘There’s this to say for blood and breath,’ runs the latest one, from A.E. Housman: ‘They give a man a taste for death.’ Are we being directed to hold in mind those other lines of Housman’s? Oh like enough ’tis blood, my dear, For when the knife has slit The throat across from ear to ear ’Twill bleed because of it ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Fastsellers, 22 March 2001

... to be topping the charts. A week later, as things warmed up for spring, Grisham was trailing P.D. James, whose new Death in Holy Orders was ahead by a nose (5408 units to 5061), and Matthew Kneale slipped to seventh place, behind Anita Shreve, Jack Higgins, Paul Eddy and Catherine Cookson, without sales falling off too dramatically, as a respectable 1366 ...

The Cadaver Club

Iain Sinclair, 22 December 1994

Original Sin 
by P.D. James.
Faber, 426 pp., £14.99, October 1994, 0 571 17253 9
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Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 282 pp., £14.99, September 1994, 1 85619 507 4
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The Hidden Files: An Autobiography 
by Derek Raymond.
Warner, 342 pp., £5.99, December 1994, 0 7515 1184 6
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Not till the Red Fog Rises 
by Derek Raymond.
Little, Brown, 248 pp., £15.99, December 1994, 0 316 91014 7
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... Baroness James, making a rare visitation to a blighted metropolitan zone, downriver of Tower Bridge, has written a very useful book, a book on which I will be happy to draw for years to come. That was back in 1972. Title? The Maul and the Pear Tree; co-authored by T.A. Critchley of the Police Department at the Home Office, where James then earned her crust as a Principal in the Criminal Policy Department ...

Character References

Robert Taubman, 15 May 1980

The Echo Chamber 
by Gabriel Josipovici.
Harvester, 154 pp., £6.50, March 1980, 0 85527 807 2
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Birthstone 
by D.M. Thomas.
Gollancz, 160 pp., £6.50, March 1980, 0 575 02762 2
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Kingdom Come 
by Melvyn Bragg.
Secker, 352 pp., £6.50, March 1980, 0 436 06714 5
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A Gentle Occupation 
by Dirk Bogarde.
Chatto, 360 pp., £5.95, March 1980, 0 7011 2505 5
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Innocent Blood 
by P.D. James.
Faber, 276 pp., £5.95, March 1980, 0 571 11566 7
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... the latter are more ‘literary’. This is all the difference between Innocent Blood and P.D. James’s detective stories. It is frightfully ‘literary’ – wordy and uneconomical, over-determining the characters with fussy attentions, careless about hard facts and loaded with literary quotations. Like a detective story, on the other hand, it has pace ...

Lizzy with the Candlestick

Joanna Biggs: P.D. James’s Austen, 5 January 2012

Death Comes to Pemberley 
by P.D. James.
Faber, 310 pp., £18.99, November 2011, 978 0 571 28357 6
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... was published that it was ‘rather too light & bright & sparkling; – it wants shade.’ P.D. James’s Death Comes to Pemberley follows in this shady tradition. In her preface, James apologises to Austen for ‘involving her beloved Elizabeth in the trauma of a murder investigation’, and imagines Austen replying ...

Back to the future

Julian Symons, 10 September 1992

The Children of Men 
by P.D. James.
Faber, 239 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 0 571 16741 1
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A Philosophical Investigation 
by Philip Kerr.
Chatto, 336 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 0 7011 4553 6
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Spoilt 
by Georgina Hammick.
Chatto, 212 pp., £13.99, August 1992, 0 7011 4133 6
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The Death of the Author 
by Gilbert Adair.
Heinemann, 135 pp., £13.99, August 1992, 0 434 00623 8
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Jerusalem Commands 
by Michael Moorcock.
Cape, 577 pp., £15.99, July 1992, 0 224 03074 4
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... and the Warden, and is told by Xan that he desires the end but closes his eyes to the means. P.D. James has two themes here. One is about the baneful effect of a hedonistic eugenic tyranny where those who don’t go voluntarily to their Quietus are delivered to it by force, and the other, developed in the book’s second half, about human redemption through ...

Hanging out with Higgins

Michael Wood, 7 December 1989

Silent Partner 
by Jonathan Kellerman.
Macdonald, 506 pp., £11.95, September 1989, 0 356 17598 7
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‘Murder will out’: The Detective in Fiction 
by T.J. Binyon.
Oxford, 166 pp., £12.95, June 1989, 9780192192233
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Devices and Desires 
by P.D. James.
Faber, 408 pp., £11.99, October 1989, 0 571 14178 1
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Killshot 
by Elmore Leonard.
Viking, 287 pp., £12.95, October 1989, 0 670 82258 2
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Trust 
by George V. Higgins.
Deutsch, 213 pp., £11.95, November 1989, 0 233 98513 1
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Polar Star 
by Martin Cruz Smith.
Collins Harvill, 373 pp., £12.95, October 1989, 0 00 271269 5
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... since when did that really matter in crime fiction? – and sternly says that P.D. James’s Adam Dalgliesh, for example, ‘lacks verisimilitude as a policeman, if not as a person’. He also says rather oddly that ‘stories about a criminal, no matter how excellent they are in their own right, can never be as attractive as stories about a ...

Gangsters in Hats

Richard Mayne, 17 May 1984

Essays on Detective Fiction 
edited by Bernard Benstock.
Macmillan, 218 pp., £20, February 1984, 0 333 32195 2
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Dashiell Hammett: A Life at the Edge 
by William Nolan.
Arthur Barker, 276 pp., £9.95, September 1983, 0 213 16886 3
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The Life of Dashiell Hammett 
by Diane Johnson.
Chatto, 344 pp., £12.95, January 1984, 9780701127664
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Hellman in Hollywood 
by Bernard Dick.
Associated University Presses, 183 pp., £14.95, September 1983, 0 8386 3140 1
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... no such misgivings. Does this mean ceasing to discriminate between literature and yarns? Professor James Naremore, in Professor Bernard Benstock’s symposium, seems to imply that it does. Dashiell Hammett, he writes, ‘challenges the easy distinctions between popular and high art, and the critical language that normally sustains those ...

After the Meteor Strike

Amia Srinivasan: Death, 24 September 2014

Death and the Afterlife 
by Samuel Scheffler.
Oxford, 210 pp., £19.99, November 2013, 978 0 19 998250 9
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... of natural causes, all human life would be destroyed in a meteor strike. Or suppose, as in P.D. James’s novel The Children of Men (loosely adapted as a film by Alfonso Cuarón in 2006), you learned that the human species as a whole had become infertile. Scheffler predicts that we would react to either scenario with what he calls (‘with bland ...

The Case of Agatha Christie

John Lanchester, 20 December 2018

... your thought’. She is delighted to accept. This is joltingly hard to read today – even P.D. James, no slave to political correctness, calls it ‘blatant misogyny’. It goes a long way to ruining what is otherwise a prime example of golden age detective fiction. Sayers gets into similar difficulties with the character of Harriet Vane, who is unmarried ...

In the Company of Confreres

Terry Eagleton: ‘Modern British Fiction’, 12 December 2002

On Modern British Fiction 
edited by Zachary Leader.
Oxford, 328 pp., £14.99, October 2002, 0 19 924932 6
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... of the backpacking generation’. Not all ladies have become women. In a chapter here on P.D. James, Martin Priestman records her distrust of ambitious professional women, approval of loyal housekeepers and disdain for people who say ‘toilet’ when they mean ‘lavatory’. At one point she feels the need to remind herself that not everyone wants to ...

Brown Goo like Marmite

Neal Ascherson: Memories of the Fog, 8 October 2015

London Fog: The Biography 
by Christine Corton.
Harvard, 408 pp., £22.95, November 2015, 978 0 674 08835 1
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... of young, vulnerable women wandering alone in the gloom. In The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James sends Isabel Archer boldly marching by herself through the ‘thick brown air’ from Euston to Piccadilly. Corton, however, suggests that the fog is ‘a metaphorical representation of this lack of light in her life, the obscurity of her emotional ...

A Preference for Torquemada

Michael Wood: G.K. Chesterton, 9 April 2009

Chesterton and the Romance of Orthodoxy: The Making of GKC 1874-1908 
by William Oddie.
Oxford, 401 pp., £25, November 2008, 978 0 19 955165 1
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The Man Who Was Thursday 
by G.K. Chesterton.
Atlantic, 187 pp., £7.99, December 2008, 978 1 84354 905 5
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... Christian apologist, and I was, I confess, the man who had not read The Man Who Was Thursday. P.D. James, in her introduction to a selection of Father Brown stories, says: ‘Chesterton never wrote an inelegant or clumsy sentence.’ Almost everyone reaches for the word ‘genial’ when they talk about him, and we are told that he loved to argue. All of these ...

The Browse Function

John Sutherland, 27 November 1997

Webonomics: Nine Essential Principles for Growing Your Business on the World Wide Web 
by Evan Schwartz.
Penguin, 244 pp., £11.99, October 1997, 9780140264067
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... love-it/hate-it responses to 50 titles, and it tells you which are the books for you (for me, P.D. James and Goethe). If you have an American bank account, or internationally recognised plastic, Amazon.com will supply British customers in much the same way that (in defiance of rights’ conventions, as I understand them) Blackwell’s has been supplying the ...

Strangers

John Lanchester, 11 July 1991

Serial Murder: An Elusive Phenomenon 
edited by Stephen Egger.
Praeger, 250 pp., £33.50, October 1990, 0 275 92986 8
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Serial Killers 
by Joel Norris.
Arrow, 333 pp., £4.99, July 1990, 0 09 971750 6
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Life after Life 
by Tony Parker.
Pan, 256 pp., £4.50, May 1991, 0 330 31528 5
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American Psycho 
by Bret Easton Ellis.
Picador, 399 pp., £6.99, April 1991, 0 330 31992 2
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Dirty Weekend 
by Helen Zahavi.
Macmillan, 185 pp., £13.99, April 1991, 0 333 54723 3
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Silence of the Lambs 
by Thomas Harris.
Mandarin, 366 pp., £4.99, April 1991, 0 7493 0942 3
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... have recently provided the material for works by artists as different from each other as P.D. James, DV8 Physical Dance Theatre and David Lynch. Stephen Egger, an American academic and former policeman who wrote the first doctoral dissertation on the phenomenon, gives a definition/description of serial murder in Serial Murder: An Elusive Phenomenon: A ...

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