Thursday, November 3, 2011

Literary Detectives: Talking About Detective Fiction

Long, long ago, in the century prior to this one, I read a book about detective fiction from my boyfriend's father's shelves (he had a grand and delightful library, one that almost made visiting the boy's 'rents worthwhile.  Almost).  I can't remember the title, but it was a collection of essays about various detective stories.  The authors of both the essays and stories reviewed were English, and the writing was brilliant -- taut, precise, with an economical use of five-dollar-words that punched straight to the heart of the topic.  It was delicious and it reminded me that college essays were not the pinnacle of literary criticism, that thinking about and enjoying books was a true and worthy passion.

While P.D. James's short book Talking About Detective Fiction does not quite rise to the heights of that long-ago memory, it has the same feeling.  A smart, invested person looks critically at her field, discussing English and American detective fiction and looking at the big names involved and the processes used.  It reminded me why I enjoy so many mysteries, from the puzzles of Sherlock Holmes, Perry Mason and Miss Marple to the more psychological twists of P.D. James's work herself.  Reading about reading is true bibliophile's joy.

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