Dark Passages: The Lesson of a Master

My newest LA Times column finishes up a two-part look at the state of contemporary fiction by being just about the last person to analyze PD James’ analysis of the genre, TALKING ABOUT DETECTIVE FICTION. Though there are some issues I take with the book, most of them a matter of taste, James is as incisive and sharp as she was on BBC Radio 4 as guest editor late last year, when she expertly took the company’s Director General to task about bloated management salaries.

Here’s how the piece opens:

In order to understand and properly appreciate contemporary detective

fiction, it is vital to look back to the past. That can be hard to do

when one’s nominal occupation requires staying on top — and reading

many — of the year’s releases, which total in the thousands in a given

12-month period. But even the shop-worn excuse of “too many books to

read” wears thin after a while.

Still, this regrettable gap can be filled by an essay collection like

Otto Penzler’s “The Lineup” (which Dark Passages reviewed last month)

or a good reference book, like William DeAndrea’s “Encyclopedia

Mysteriosa” (1994) or Julian Symons’ 1972 tome “Bloody Murder.” Or

still, by the distinct perspective of one of the genre’s most important

practitioners, who at the age of 89 engaged firsthand with mystery’s

Golden Age as a reader and then, as a writer, put her own spin on her

crime-writing ancestors….

Read on for the rest.