James's strengths as a writer include the realism of her characters, her clear and carefully delineated plots, her deep psychological penetration, and her sense of place. In an interview with Patricia Craig for the Times Literary Supplement in 1981, she stated that for her, place is of utmost importance. This, rather than plot or characters, is often the starting point for her novels. She uses only places that she knows well, and describes them in picturesque and often poetic detail. In Innocent Blood, she takes the reader from London's more fashionable suburbs, on trains and in crowded underground stations, to the streets and shops of London's many districts, to the parks and markets, up the stairs of a dingy flat where she examines every corner, then into cheap hotels and seedy restaurants, into church services and prisons — all with remarkable clarity and detail. It is this sense of place that anchors the story in reality and gives it "a local habitation and a name."
James uses plot with great care. She chose the detective story genre because webs of intrigue demand painstaking construction, a quality she considers important in fiction. For her, the detective story was an apprenticeship to a "real novel," her ultimate ambition. Critics have hailed Innocent Blood as a true novel, a work "without any qualifying genre tag." Carefully constructed in the manner of the detective story, often called a "crime novel," all the pieces of...
(The entire section is 411 words.)