I picked this book up a while back expecting some enlightening discussion on the mystery genre, hoping it would provide some insight from a writers perspective on how mystery stories are put together. Mostly wishing for a book on craft and wring, but instead what I got was more of a historical overview of the genre.
P.D. James is one of the best known mystery writers out there and certainly knows her stuff. As the title states, James primarily focuses on detective fiction, a part of the mystery genre, but certainly not the only kind out there. With this laser focus on detective fiction, James begins this book from the early days of the genre, looking at novels such as Caleb Williams, Bleak House, and The Moonstone. From there we quickly move into Sherlock territory. After which she moves the discussion to the British Golden Age – Christie, Sayers, Marsh, Allingham, etc... - with a brief side journey to American crime fiction – Hammet, Chandler, Macdonald. In addition to all these names, she covers a lot of ground touching upon numerous detective writers, from the likes of Chesterton, Innes, Crispin, and many more.
After finishing this little book I really wonder who is the intended audience. If you are a mystery fan, it might be an enjoyable quick read, but there is nothing here that you're probably are not already familiar with. Myself as an occasional reader of mysteries, I found myself not terribly engaged with the overall discussion and found it very general though informative. Having said that, I did find a few new writers that I'll be adding to my list to read in the future. But after finishing this book, I just didn't really come away with anything that for the most part wasn't already on my radar.
I wouldn't say it's a bad book. It's just kinda there. Easy and informative. If you are a new mystery reader or a massive fan of P.D. James, this book would probably be right up your alley. But for the most part I think there are probably better non-fiction works out there that cover the subject in more depth and engaging discussion.