When I first heard of P.D. James (many long years ago), I initially thought she was a he. I mean, how many women prefer to be known by their initials rather than their actual names? When I heard yesterday that Baroness James had died at the age of 94, I can’t deny I thought with regret about how her most illustrious character and protagonist of fourteen James novels, Adam Dalgliesh, would fare. Yes, James did (more or less) retire Dalgliesh when the last mystery novel (The Private Patient) in which he was featured debuted in 2008. But for readers of the fourteen books, his persona is so familiar, so real! (Did I mention he’s a poet?)
When I began to be more serious about my writing in adulthood, several others in the writing world – who knew about publishing – told me mystery-writing was an easier avenue for achieving publication success. I read some mystery/detective whodunnits and a ton of Ellery Queen before I acknowledged these weren’t my cup of tea.
In something of a surprise, I stumbled across P.D. James who (I discovered) had begun writing detective stories as a self-taught “apprenticeship” she hoped would assist her development into a “serious” novelist. My aspirations mirrored hers. Before I’d read one book through, I was hooked. Her cautionary comment became a watchword for me: “a detective story is very easy to write badly but difficult to write well.” Continue reading “A Full Life and Long”