POSTHUMOUS GIFTS FROM P. D. JAMES: SLEEP NO MORE

What do you do if you want to read something suspenseful, with interesting characters, dark subject matter and surprising but satisfying twists, and yet you’re in the beginning of the holiday season and can’t make the time to sit down with a full novel?  You’re in luck, because a new collection of short suspenseful stories by the late great P.D. James has just been published, and Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales will help scratch that mystery/suspense itch even in the few moments you’re able to snatch from your crazed schedule.

P. D. James has always been a great psychological writer, and a fine prose stylist at the same time. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about her novels is her ability to get inside the minds of such different characters and inhabit them fully, no matter how warped or even demented the character might seem to someone on the outside, and in the world of the short story, she’s demonstrated her ability to bring that laser like focus on characters together with her fiendish plotting and expert scene-setting in small, bite-sized but still delicious (to strain the metaphor a bit) servings.

This collection includes one classic locked room murder (“The Murder of Santa Claus,”) a creepy story about a young girl who’s forgotten the first ten years of her life and is drawn, for reasons she can’t understand, to graveyards (“The Girl who Loved Graveyards”) and a story told by an elderly man to his greedy heirs, confessing to a terrible crime decades before (“Mr. Millcroft’s Birthday”) The stories all turn on surprising twists that make sense even as they overturn whatever you thought was going on earlier (unlike some stories where the twists seem to be there just for the sake of having twists, and yes, I’m looking at you, Gone Girl), on issues of revenge and justice. You can read them as Golden Age mysteries a la Agatha Christie, or as psychological studies set in decades past, or you can just read them and revel in the delights of a master at work.

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