(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

P. D. James’s novels are intricately plotted, as successful novels of detection must be. Through her use of extremely well-delineated characters and a wealth of minute and accurate details, however, she never allows her plot to distort the other aspects of her novel. In this meticulous attention to detail, James writes in the tradition of Gustave Flaubert, Leo Tolstoy, and the nineteenth century realists. She is the acknowledged master of characterization among contemporary mystery writers. She also creates a very powerful sense of place. Because the characterizations and setting of a James novel are so fully explored, it tends to be considerably longer than the ordinary murder mystery. This fact, along with Dalgliesh’s increasingly distant presence in the midst of so many other deeply nuanced and compelling characters, accounts for what little adverse criticism her work has received. Some critics have suggested that the detail is so profuse that the general reader may eventually grow impatient—that the pace of the narrative is too leisurely. These objections from a few contemporary critics further attest to James’s affinity with the novelists of the nineteenth century. Quite a few of her novels have been adapted for television, with as much fidelity to the depth and psychological complexity of the original works as possible.