James, P. D. Shroud for a Nightingale.

NY: Scribner, 1971.

Having now read half a dozen of James’s novels featuring Adam Dalgliesh, senior homicide specialist from Scotland Yard (including some of the earlier works and some of the more recent), I’m beginning to get a handle on her style. She started out writing “cozies” — her first effort, Cover Her Face, could almost have been a more literary Agatha Christie — but she soon decided there was no reason to omit the unpleasantness of the real world that Christie went to such lengths to avoid.

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Published in: on 30 July 2010 at 9:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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James, P. D. An Unsuitable Job for a Woman.

NY: Scribner, 1972.

Having now read several of James’s Adam Dalgliesh police procedurals — a couple of earlier ones and a couple of the far superior later ones — I decided it was time to dip into her non-Dalgliesh work. This is the first one featuring Miss Cordelia Gray, private detective. Isn’t not a long story, only a bit over 200 pages, but it’s not bad. Cordelia, having been taken on by Bernie Pryde as an apprentice detective, suddenly finds herself the sole proprietor when Bernie offs himself because of terminal cancer. Bernie was an ex-Met cop, fond of quoting methods and principles learned at the knee of then-DCI Dalgliesh (who later had him sacked for lack of basic competence),

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Published in: on 27 July 2010 at 7:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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Wareham, Tom. Frigate Commander.

Barnsley, South Yorkshire, UK: Pen & Sword Books, 2004.

You can read all you want about the history of the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic era (and I do), but no matter how astute and evocative an historian’s narrative is, it can never compete with the words of the men who actually took part in the events of the day. When Wareham published his very well received Star Captains a few years ago — a study of the exploits of that small group of the most outstanding frigate captains and the mostly single-ship actions in which they took part — the principal criticism he heard was that he hadn’t gone into enough depth on any one of them. (more…)

Published in: on 24 July 2010 at 10:39 am  Leave a Comment  
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James, P. D. A Taste for Death.

NY: Knopf, 1986.

I’ve been trying, intermittently, for several years to get into this author’s highly-rated police procedurals featuring Adam Dalgliesh, now a very senior copper of Scotland Yard — I just couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for the books when I tried to read them in chronological order — and I’ve finally found that the way to do it is by ignoring most of the author’s early work and sticking to those produced since she really learned her trade.

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Published in: on 22 July 2010 at 12:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Wambaugh, Joseph. Hollywood Moon.

NY: Little, Brown, 2009.

This is the third of the author’s “Hollywood Station” series, and it’s the best yet. In fact, this hilarious, touching, blood-chilling, and dramatic gathering of multiple narrative threads is proof that Wambaugh still has what it takes to be telling street-cop stories. All the characters we’ve come to know from the earlier two books are here: Hollywood Nate Weiss, SAG-card-carrying Patrolman-2, and Flotsam and Jetsam, the surfer cops whose beach jive sometimes makes them almost unintelligible to their colleagues,

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Published in: on 20 July 2010 at 5:47 am  Leave a Comment  
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James, P. D. A Mind to Murder.

NY: Scribner, 1963.

This is the second in the author’s now highly-regarded series of detective novels featuring homicide expert (and published poet) Adam Dalgliesh. And while I’m prepared to accept the general opinion of James’s abilities — and her later novels are, in fact, quite interesting and involving — it’s a bit difficult to understand how she ever developed the literary momentum to reach the status of a devoted readership. Her first novel, Cover Her Face, was quite ordinary and Agatha-Christie-ish.

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Published in: on 17 July 2010 at 7:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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Yagoda, Ben. The Sound on the Page: Style and Voice in Writing.

NY: HarperCollins, 2004.

As nearly as I can recall, I began consciously trying to write sometime in junior high. I had found an enormous old bound, lined ledger book and all those empty pages demanded I try to fill them. Over the next few years, I wrote execrable short stories, I wrote self-conscious essays of opinion, I wrote terrible verse. If I thought about “style” and “voice” at all, I suppose I thought such things were intuitive. They would appear on their own; all I had to do was keep writing.

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Published in: on 14 July 2010 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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James, P. D. Cover Her Face.

NY: Scribner, 1962.

I’ve been trying for awhile to get into James’s corpus of mystery stories, but with only intermittent success. However, having recently finished one of her much later works (A Certain Justice, 1997), I decided to go back to the beginning and witness Adam Dalgliesh’s fictional birth as a detective. It’s been rather an education in the changing styles of police procedurals during my lifetime. The jacket copy compares James favorably to Agatha Christie and Dalgliesh to Poirot — not a compliment in my own opinion, but it’s actually spot-on in this first work.

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Published in: on 12 July 2010 at 6:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Robinson, Peter. Blood at the Root.

NY: Avon, 1998.

It’s instructive to read Robinson immediately after reading P. D. James, the two are so different. Where Commander Adam Dalgliesh is cerebral, a published poet, a natural aristocrat, and a southern urbanite who seems psychologically imbedded in the 1930s of Agatha Christie, DCI Alan Banks is a somewhat scruffy Scotch-guzzling northerner-by-adoption dealing with crime and criminals who are very much of the end of the 20th century.

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Published in: on 11 July 2010 at 6:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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James, P. D. A Certain Justice.

NY: Knopf, 1997.

I’m perfectly aware that Baroness James is very highly thought of in both this country and the UK for the literary quality of her mystery novels featuring Commander Adam Dalgliesh, educated copper and published poet, but somehow I’ve just never been able to resonate with her style. I keep trying, though, hoping to find the facet of her books that will allow me entrée into her writing.

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Published in: on 8 July 2010 at 2:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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