More Insight from P. D. James

Ms. James continues to define and analyze the detective genre. 

Talking About Detective Fiction
P. D. James

A distinguished novelist, Reginald Hill, . . . wrote in 1978, "Let me be clear. Without a police force there can be no detective fiction although several modern writers have, with varying degrees of success, tried to write detective stories set in pre-police days." The opinion seems rational: detective fiction is unlikely to flourish in societies without an organised system of law enforcement or in which murder is commonplace. Mystery novelists, particularly in the Golden Age, were generally strong supporters of institutional law and order, and of the police. Individual officers might be portrayed as ineffective, plodding, slow-witted and ill-educated, but never as corrupt. Detective fiction is in the tradition of the English novel, which sees crime, violence and social chaos as an aberration, virtue and good order as the norm for which all reasonable people strive, and which confirms our belief, despite some evidence to the contrary, that we live in a rational, comprehensible and moral universe.  And in doing this it provides not only the satisfaction all all popular literature, the mild intellectual challenge of a puzzle, excitement, confirmation of our cherished beliefs in goodness and order, but also entry to a familiar and reassuring world in which we are both involved in violent death and yet remain personally inviolate both from responsibility and from its terrors. Whether we should expect this detachment from vicarious responsibility is, of course, another question and one which bears on the difference between the books of the years between the wars and the detective novels of today.

This is, so far, a quick read.  I don't know that it has the depth of some previous studies--but then I haven't progressed far enough to make any reasonable evaluations--rather, I am presently just enjoying the tour of the grounds with Ms. James.  I hope the rest of the book bears out the premise (and promise) of these early excerpts.


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