PD James: She was fascinated by death all her life

Jake Kerridge in The Telegraph:

PDJamesforweb_3120694bPD James had, to quote the title of what is probably her finest novel, A Taste for Death. Only last month she attended the launch party for CJ Sansom’s latest Shardlake mystery. Picking up the hefty tome and noticing its size, she said: “This will see me out.” It’s the sort of morbid joke you would expect from someone who famously said that when she first heard the story of Humpty Dumpty, her initial response was to wonder: “Did he jump or was he pushed?” She was fascinated by death all her life. She brought that fascination to a genre, detective fiction, that had previously tended to ignore the subject. Yes, old-style detective fiction was littered with corpses, but they are principally there to provide a puzzle for the reader, and the realities of violent death are ignored.

James was one of the first writers to combine a pleasingly complicated Christie-esque mystery with the depth of literary fiction, and she was the first of these new-style crime writers to be taken to the reading public’s heart. In her novel Devices and Desires(1989) she has a character reading an old-fashioned crime novel in which there is a “detective who, despite his uncertainties, would get there in the end because this was fiction; problems could be solved, evil overcome, justice vindicated, and death itself only a mystery which would be solved in the final chapter.” The implication is clear: no such comforting falsehoods are to be expected at the end of a James novel. Everything will not be alright again once the murderer is caught. But millions of readers adored her uncompromising view of the evil lurking in ordinary life.

More here. (Note: I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. James in 1993 in Chicago and she was every bit the Grand Dame I had imagined her to be, I mourn her loss today.)