About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James

2. - 515.) Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James – In her 90th year the distinguished mystery author provides a gracefully written short history of detective fiction from her perspective and particulars on how she writes her mysteries.

I was intrigued by the rules set out by mystery writer, Monsignor Ronald Knox, from the Golden Age between the World Wars:

“The criminal must be mentioned in the early part of the narrative but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow. All supernatural agencies are ruled out. There must not be more than one secret room or passage. No hitherto undiscovered poisons should be used, indeed, any appliance which needs a long scientific explanation. No Chinaman must figure in the story. No accident must help the detective, nor is he allowed an unaccountable intuition. The detective himself must not commit the crime or alight on any clues which are not instantly produced for the reader. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, should be slightly, but no more than slightly. less intelligent than the average reader and his thoughts should not be concealed. And, finally, twin brothers and doubles generally must not appear unless the reader has been dully prepared for them.”

She does not accept the rules as immutable especially in the minds of those writers she considers brilliant. While focused on British writers she has high regard for Sara Paretsky.

At the end she discusses how she writes her books. (I had missed that information in her autobiography – 26.) A Time to be in Earnest – written a decade ago.

She said a setting will be in the inspiration. She gave the example of standing on the North Sea coast and looking to the south and seeing a nuclear power plant. The book grew from that location. For the viewpoint she combines authorial (a detached recorder of events) and from the minds of different characters. To avoid confusion she does not combine viewpoints in a chapter.

She speaks of the challenge of making the victim sympathetic enough to draw the readers interest while being someone who “necessarily have provoked murderous hatred for diverse reasons in a small group of people”.

She believes there should be no more than 5 suspects to maintain the ability to develop characters.

Motives have changed over time. In an age of public confession of sexual adventures it is more difficult to make disclosure of sexual indiscretion a motive. She quotes one of her books on all motives coming down to lust, lucre and love with love being the most dangerous.

With regard to character development she says:

“And characters grow like plants in an author’s mind during the months of writing, seeming to reveal more and more of themselves.”

She continues that she seems to be in touch with the characters in her mind and engaged in “a process of revelation, not of creation”.

An excellent book. (Jan. 9/10) (Third best of non-fiction for 2010)


  1. Bill - P.D. James has certainly been a leader in the crime fiction world for a very long time, and she has a lot of wisdom to share. I'm very glad you liked this book. I think she has an awful lot of valuable things to say.

  2. Margot: Thanks for the comment. The Baroness is thoughtful in fiction and non-fiction. She is a superb communicator.

  3. I stand in awe of P.D. James so I think I´ll have to buy this one before or later. I can always tell myself it is a handbook I need for my writer´s library :D

  4. Dorte: I believe you will both enjoy the book and find it useful. She skilfully sets out her process of writing a mystery.