Saturday, October 15, 2005

So much to read, so little time

If I remember rightly, the venerable P.D. James swore some time back that she would never write another crime novel but the impulse obviously got the better of her, for here she is, recently turned 85 but obviously with all faculties still intact, still being stern about the decline in standards yet still saying 'which' when she means 'that' (something one of her editors really ought to have told her about by now; she's been doing it for 40 years), back on England's southwest coast with the Mr Darcy-like Adam Dalgliesh in the midst of another murder mystery: The Lighthouse.

She seems to be plagiarising one of her own earlier plots, for the old-fashioned house-party convention combined with the island setting is strongly reminiscent of The Skull Beneath the Skin, in which James's long-since-disappeared and much-lamented (by me) alternative detective Cordelia Gray was the one doing the sleuthing. For a while it looked as though James was going to line up Cordelia with Dalgliesh, but she obviously thought better of it and has provided him instead with a new love interest almost as stitched-up and humourless as he is.

NB this book is much better than I am making it sound. I once saw James speak: she is a tiny, forceful, badly dressed, serious-minded survivor.

And newly out: Espresso Tales, the staggeringly prolific and benign Alexander McCall Smith's sequel to 44 Scotland Street, also previously published as a weekly serial in The Scotsman, which carries on where the last one left off. 'She would tell Peter that she did not feel ready to go to a nudist picnic just yet. Though when would one be ready for such an event?'

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