Queen of the British Women Mystery Writers: P.D. James

True confession #1: I find that the mysteries of P.D. James are an acquired taste, sort of like Pride and Prejudice. I tried reading her detective fiction while still in high school as lots of people thought I would like it. I didn’t really get into it. Her detective had an unpronounceable name (Adam Dalgliesh) and was a poet. When I was in high school I thought poetry was pretentious hipster writing and thus that all poets were pretentious hipsters. I’ve softened my attitude toward poetry and developed a taste for the careful reading necessary to appreciate P.D. James.

True confession #2: The P.D. James book I’ve read the most isn’t a mystery. It is her excellent work of speculative fiction, The Children of Men. I think so much of this book that I have two copies — one hard cover (for reading at home) and one pocket paperback (for lending out and taking on the road). When I have a chance to teach a children’s ministry course this novel will be on the required reading list. It contains both a vivid picture of a sterile human race and some really interesting theology. I think that contemplating a world without children helps people see the value of children in the church. And really interesting theology presented in narrative form is always worth discussing.

True confession #3: I’ve not yet caught up on reading the P.D. James backlist. I’ve got more to go! This is exciting. I’m also pleased to see that Baroness James is still writing — Austen fanfic! Death Comes to Pemberley is now available. Loads of people had it in their #fridayreads this week. See me happily lining up for a library copy. I may get tired of waiting and just ask for the book for Christmas.

Advice if you are just starting to read P.D. James: realize that her writing is carefully crafted. It isn’t a fast read. I like both her recent work and her earlier work, but found her more recent work slightly more accessible to begin with. I’m now working back into the books written in the 1960s. (Side note: Am still amazed that PDJ has been writing for longer than my lifetime. And she’s still going.) If you don’t get into the books right away, try later. You might have acquired a taste for the Queen of Crime.

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