Wednesday, June 14, 2006

P.D. James' list of the most riveting crime novels

P. D. James is the author of nineteen books, most of which have been filmed and broadcast on television in the United States and other countries. She spent thirty years in various departments of the British Civil Service, including the Police and Criminal Law Department of Great Britain's Home Office. She has served as a magistrate and as a governor of the BBC. In 2000 she celebrated her eightieth birthday and published her autobiography, Time to Be in Earnest. The recipient of many prizes and honors, she was created Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991. She lives in London and Oxford.

Her most recent novel is The Lighthouse.

Introducing an interview James did with Salon in 1998, Jennifer Reese wrote: "James peers amiably through thick glasses and uses the word 'dear in just about every sentence. But she also writes razor-sharp observations of British society and coolly graphic depictions of dead bodies."

The Wall Street Journal recently asked James to come up with five riveting crime novels.

Number 1 on her list?

Tragedy at Law by Cyril Hare (Harcourt, Brace, 1943).

For me there is particular charm in books written before or during World War II, not least because I find myself engrossed in that very different world. In Tragedy at Law we travel with a High Court judge, Mr. Justice Barber, as he moves in state from town to town presiding over cases. But someone obviously wishes him dead, and twice he narrowly escapes. The amateur detective is a defending barrister, Francis Pettigrew, once in love with the judge's wife and a man of ability and probity who has never quite achieved success. Author Cyril Hare was himself a judge, and the book provides a fascinating portrayal of the judge in court and of the coterie of people, including barristers, who travel with him. Written with elegance and wit, Tragedy at Law is regarded by many lawyers as the best English detective story set in the legal world.

Click here to read about two through five on her list.

In a brief profile at the Guardian, James said: "The greatest mystery of all is the human heart, and that is the mystery with which all good novelists are concerned."

Do you aspire to write a mystery novel? Click here for eight easy mystery writing lessons from the baroness.

--Marshal Zeringue