Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D.James is a discussion of the genre which ranges from the 19th century origins to TV's Prime Suspect. At a mere 157 pages it is hardly a comprehensive study, but it has a certain charm in that the reader will feel that Baroness James is naturally much more at home in the cosy villages of England than with the genre's later developments.
One aspect that might concern the modern reader is that the book is very Anglo-American in its viewpoint. There is only the very briefest mention of the explosion of crime fiction writing in Sweden and other non-English speaking countries, with only two authors being mentioned by name; Henning Mankell and Georges Simenon.
'Our planet has always been a dangerous, violent and mysterious habitation for humankind and we are all adept at creating those pleasures and comforts, large and small, sometimes dangerous and destructive, which offer at least temporary relief from the inevitable tensions and anxieties of contemporary life. A love of detective fiction is certainly among the least harmful.'
The Lineup, The World's Greatest Crime Writers Tell The Inside Story of Their Greatest Detectives, edited by Otto Penzler, is a wonderful series of astute character sketches that offer interesting insights into writing detective fiction.
So far I have read only the first six out of the twenty one biographical essays, but these have been as good as one would expect from a star studded lineup of Ken Bruen, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, John Connolly, Robert Crais and Jeffrey Deaver.
This is definitely a collection that should not be missed, and I am looking forward to reading the rest of the essays, and learning more about that very personal relationship between a writer and their detective.
Perhaps one day someone will publish a collection of biographical sketches by Jo Nesbo, Fred Vargas, Karin Fossum, Mari Jungstedt, Marek Krajewski, Gunnar Staalesen, Andrea Camilleri, Henning Mankell, K.O.Dahl and other European authors discussing their detectives.