120. Talking About Detective Fiction (P.D. James)

E.M. Forster once wrote:

“The king died and the queen died” is a story. “The king died, and then the queen died of grief” is a plot. . . . “The queen died, no one knew why, until it was discovered that it was through grief at the death of the king.” This is a plot with a mystery in it, a form capable of high development. (Aspects of the Novel, qtd. in James 4)

P.D. James goes on to survey one particular brand of mystery writing, detective fiction, providing a general overview of its history, major figures, and themes. The study is interesting but exceedingly general. Although I’m convinced of the merits of mystery novels, I’m not convinced of the merits of those detective novels and writers James idolizes, due to the formulaic nature of the detective subgenre.

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