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Book Author: P. D. James

P. D. JAMES: An Appreciation

In the midst of getting ready for Thanksgiving dinner yesterday, I heard the news of the death of P. D. James.  Although at age 94 her passing was certainly not unexpected, it still saddens me to think that no more of her wonderful mysteries will be forthcoming.

Amid all the personal remembrances that have been written just since her death yesterday and all the other yet to come, I’d like to add my own.  I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. James more than thirty years ago at Kate’s Mystery Books in Cambridge, which I believe was one of the first stores of its type, specializing in all forms of mystery and suspense novels. 

Kate Mattes hosted many authors over the years, both novices to the publishing world and famous ones, including Robert B. Parker, Sara Paretsky, and of course Ms. James.  To me Ms. James was the epitome of the English writer.  I remember her as petite, with brown hair and wearing what the British call a “twin set,” also brown.  I can’t remember if she wore pearls, but I’ve added them to the picture of her in my mind.  Of course I still have the book she inscribed to me, Innocent Blood.  “To Marilyn, With every good wish from the author, P. D. James.”

Like many other readers, I was an immediate fan after reading her first novel, Cover Her FaceBut I must confess that her two novels featuring private investigator Cordelia Gray were my favorites.  From interviews the authors gave, she stopped writing about the P.I. because she wanted a more authentic protagonist, and at that time there were no women detectives in Scotland Yard.  Thus Adam Dalgliesh became her best-known creation.  However, I still retain a special warm spot for the inexperienced but intrepid Cordelia Gray.

Baroness James of Holland Park, as she was known after receiving a life peerage in 1991, did not have an easy life.  Her husband, a physician, returned from World War II with mental problems, leaving Ms. James to support their young family as well as dealing with his frequent stays in psychiatric hospitals.   She worked for many years for the British government and finally achieved great fame years after her husband’s early death.  Her novels were all carefully plotted, totally believable, and featured both settings and characters that held the reader from the first page to the last.  They were a joy to read and re-read.

If there was one more thing to be thankful for yesterday, it was having had the works of Phyllis Dorothy James to read over these past decades.

You can read more about P. D. James at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.





DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLY by P.D. James: Book Review

It is not often that I read a mystery with a sense of joy.  Interest, enthusiasm, excitement–all those things are to be expected.  But when I finished reading Death Comes to Pemberly, I was filled with the joy that comes from reading a totally enchanting book. 

The novel opens six years after Elizabeth Bennet’s marriage to Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. They reside at Darcy’s family estate, Pemberly, with their two young sons, surrounded by servants whose parents and grandparents were part of the Darcy family’s retinue.  They live close to Elizabeth’s older sister and best friend, Jane, and her husband, Mr. Bingley, Darcy’s closest friend.

The Darcys are preparing for the annual Lady Anne Ball when, amidst the pouring rain and howling wind, a chaise is heard outside the front door.  When the group of Darcys, Bingleys, and others go to see who could be arriving in this storm, they are surprised and bewildered to see Elizabeth’s and Jane’s younger sister, Lydia, nearly falling out of the chaise.  She cries, “Wickham’s dead.  Denny has shot him….”  But Lydia has it wrong.  It is Captain Dennis who is dead, and George Wickham will be accused of his murder.

Lydia’s elopement with Wickham several years earlier, scandalous in nature, has created a major rift between the sisters.  Lydia is reluctantly welcome at Pemberly, but her husband George Wickham is not.  Although he was a close childhood friend of Darcy’s, his lies and inappropriate behaviors have ended the friendship between the men, and neither Elizabeth nor Darcy has spoken to him in years.

Darcy and two guests hear from the chaise driver that Wickham and a friend, Captain Dennis, had been in the chaise with Lydia, in the process of dropping her off at Pemberly.  There apparently had been a quarrel between the men and Dennis had run out into the woods, closely followed by Wickham, and two or three shots were subsequently heard.  Darcy and his two friends quickly leave the house and go into the estate’s woods, where they find Wickham, covered with blood, leaning over the body of his friend, saying, “He’s dead…and I’ve killed him.”

P. D. James’ prose perfectly captures the writing of Jane Austen. So skillful is her style that I believe it would fool the most dedicated Austen scholar.  She has captured perfectly the various personalities that appear in Pride and Prejudice–the kind and compassionate Jane, the more volatile Elizabeth, the foolish and vulgar Lydia, the self-contained Darcy, and various other characters, major and minor, who were in Austen’s novel.  Even Darcy’s disagreeable maternal aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is perfectly captured in her letter to Elizabeth:  “I have never approved of protracted dying.  It is an affectation in the aristocracy; in the lower classes it is merely an excuse for avoiding work….People should make up their minds whether to live or to die and do one or the other with the least inconvenience to others.”

The Baroness James of Holland Park will be 92 this August, and her writing is as clever and skillful as it was when I read her book An Unsuitable Job for a Woman more than thirty years ago. How fortunate we are that she continues to write and bring delight to her readers.

You can read more about P.D. James at this web site.