Talking About Detective Fiction (Magill's Literary Annual 2010)
Having spent almost a half century writing novels of detection, P. D. James is eminently qualified for the task she undertakes in Talking About Detective Fiction: to survey the history and importance of the genre. While the book was intended originally to be a study of British detective fiction, James also remarks on the American contribution to the genre. At the outset, she struggles with a problem that besets many students of detective fiction: distinguishing it from mainstream fiction. The elements of mystery and crime that, by anyone’s definition, are essential to detective fiction are also frequently present in mainstream fiction. Nonetheless, James says, detective fiction is distinguished by a highly organized structure and recognized conventions:a central mysterious crime, usually murder; a closed circle of suspects, each with motive, means and opportunity for the crime; a detective, either amateur or professional; and, at the end of the book, a solution which the reader should be able to arrive at by logical deduction.
James argues that, while this definition of the genre is adequate, it has over time become restrictive. The tightly delimited circle of suspects, for example, has proved to be less essential than the other elements included in the definition.
In her survey of the origins of detective fiction, James takes the view that Wilkie Collins’s novel The Moonstone (1868) stands as the first “full-length...
(The entire section is 1990 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 2010)
Booklist 106, no. 8 (December 15, 2009): 9.
Library Journal 135, no. 1 (January 1, 2010): 107.
New Statesman, October 12, 1009, p. 51.
The New York Times, December 7, 2007, p. C1.
Publishers Weekly 256, no. 43 (October 26, 2009): 42
The Spectator 311, no. 9453 (October 31, 2009): 49
The Times (London), October 31, 2009, p. 12.
The Times Literary Supplement, November 6, 2009, p. 30.
The Wall Street Journal, December 9, 2009, p. A25.
(The entire section is 44 words.)