Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Gidez, Richard B. P. D. James. New York: Twayne, 1986.

James, Caryn. “Children of Differing Visions.” The New York Times, December 28, 2006, p. E1.

James, P. D. “A Conversation with . . . P. D. James.” Interview by Lewis Burke Frumkes. Writer 111 (June, 1998): 17-20.

James, P. D. “P. D. James and the Mystery of Iniquity.” Interview by Ralph Wood. Modern Age 44 (Fall, 2002): 350-358.

Maslin, Janet. “A Rich Menu of Murder, Garnished with a Small Sprig of Shame.” The New York Times, December 1, 2005, p. E1.

Maxfield, James F. “The Unfinished Detective: The Work of P. D. James.” Critique 28 (Summer, 1987): 211-222.

Wood, Ralph C. “Murder in the Vicarage.” First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life 167 (November, 2006): 38-41.

Zaleski, Jeff, and Peter Cannon. “Death in Holy Orders.” Publishers Weekly 248 (March 19, 2001): 79.

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

As a writer of detective stories, James sees herself in the British classical tradition. Both she and her critics compare her to Dorothy Sayers; many feel that she surpasses her predecessor, particularly in character analysis and profound observation of human behavior. She is philosophically oriented, and expresses the tensions of modern society, and the current ambiguity of moral values. Among classical authors, her favorite is Jane Austen, for whom her second daughter was named, and whom her characters frequently quote. She cites among her other preferred writers George Eliot, Anthony Trollope, Graham Greene, and Evelyn Waugh. Her social realism points to the influence of Thomas Hardy. Critics have seen in Innocent Blood echoes of the Oedipus story and, in the careful descriptions of London, reminiscences of Dickens.

(The entire section is 127 words.)