The late great writer, P.D. James, is no longer with us, which is a shame for anyone who’s read and enjoyed her mystery series featuring Adam Dalgliesh or Cordelia Grey, or her stand-alone books which ranged from speculative fiction (The Children of Men, made into a movie) to historical fiction (Death Comes to Pemberley, a mystery sequel of sorts to Pride and Prejudice, made into a British television series). However, if you miss her excellent psychological insights and her tricky mysteries, you’re in luck. A posthumous collection of her shorter stories, The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories, has just been released and is available here at the Field Library.
For those of us who have long wondered what Adam Dalgliesh was like when he was first a detective, James has a story of one of his first cases in this collection, when he was a young man, before he made his reputation, in a case that he himself describes as “pure Agatha Christie.” The young inspector, investigating the brutal murder of an older man which first seemed like suicide, impresses his superiors (and the readers) with a dozen clues that point to the identity of the murderer. And there’s another Dalgliesh story, from later in his life, in which he investigates a closed case at the request of his godfather. The older man is going to inherit a substantial sum, but he wants to make sure that he’s not actually inheriting the fruits of an earlier poisoning.
There are two non-Dalgliesh stories as well. The title story is told by an elderly mystery author, remembering a murder of an obnoxious holiday guest back in 1940. The list of possible suspects was very short, so it wouldn’t seem as if it would be hard to figure out who did it, except that this is P.D. James we’re discussing, so there are some surprises at the end of the story.
More unusual and more disturbing is the story, “A Very Commonplace Murder,” which is P.D. James’ first short story. Of course there’s a murder, but the focus of the story isn’t on the detectives solving the case but on a most unpleasant main character who witnessed the events but isn’t sure he wants to come forward and help exonerate the man wrongfully charged with the death. Our protagonist is a file clerk who’s also a pornographer and a voyeur, who’d been watching the trysts of this couple until one day one of them ended up in murder. The only thing commonplace about this story is the title.
These aren’t the only P.D. James short stories not yet published in book form, so while we’re waiting for the others to emerge, treat yourself to The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories and once again enjoy the pleasures of reading a “new” P.D. James.