P. D. James Mystery & Detective Fiction Analysis
Cover Her Face is the exception that proves the rule—the rule being, in this case, that P. D. James eschews the country weekend murders of her predecessors, with their leisure-class suspects who have little more to do than chat with the visiting sleuth and look guilty. Cover Her Face is set in a country house where a servant is murdered. The suspects are the inhabitants of the house and their guests from the city, who are attending an annual fete on the grounds. A detective from the outside, Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard, is called in to sort through the clues and solve the crime. This superficial description of the novel makes it sound very much like many an Agatha Christie story, and in her first book James may have felt more comfortable treading familiar literary ground. James has said, however, that comparisons of her to Christie are basically unwarranted. She likens herself more to Dorothy L. Sayers in the light of her greater interest in personality and motivation than in the crime puzzle itself.
James was from the very beginning a writer of great restraint. She almost never allows herself the luxury of self-indulgence. The old saw that first novels are largely autobiographical seems to apply to Cover Her Face in one detail only. The master of the house is bedfast, and his wife, daughter, and an old housekeeper have for a long time attended him lovingly and selflessly. James’s own husband was an invalid for many...
(The entire section is 2886 words.)
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