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For P.D. James, A Good Mystery Celebrated Human Intelligence


The British mystery writer P.D. James has died. It was a little over 50 years ago that she published her first novel when she was in her 40s. In that time, her mysteries, and there were many of them, became international bestsellers. One, "The Children Of Men" was adapted for film, many others for television. James came late to writing after being the sole support of her family and certainly never expected to be famous for crime novels.

P.D. JAMES: I don't think I actually believed or imagined that I'd end up being an international bestseller writer of detective fiction. But I began with it because I liked it so much myself. I thought I could do it, and I thought it would be a wonderful apprenticeship for someone sitting out to be a serious writer.

MONTAGNE: In an NPR interview, P.D. James outlined the classic mystery formula.


JAMES: What we have is a central mysterious crime, which is usually murder. We have a closed circle of suspects with means, motive and opportunity for the crime. We have a detective who can be amateur or professional who comes in rather like an avenging deity to solve it. And by the end, we do get a solution.

MONTAGNE: For James, a good mystery always started with the human element.

JAMES: It's not solved by good luck or divine intervention. It's solved by a human being, by human courage and human intelligence and human perseverance. So it's in a sense that the detective story is a small celebration of reason and order in our very disorderly world.

MONTAGNE: Later in life, P.D. James took on Jane Austen. She wrote a sequel to "Pride And Prejudice," "Death Comes To Pemberley." It was published in 2011 picking up where Austen left off.

JAMES: I had this idea on the back of my mind that I'd like to combine my two great enthusiasms, one is for the novels of Jane Austen, and the second is for writing detective fiction. And it would be rather fun to marry them.

MONTAGNE: Novelist P.D. James was 94 when she died at home in Oxford, England. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.