Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Mind of Wonder: P. D. James Strikes Again

James, P. D. A Mind to Murder. London: Faber, 1963.

Since I discovered the adventures of Sherlock Holmes while ill one day during my prepubescent years, I've devoured murder mysteries at a rather rapid rate. They are my stress relief, providing a chance to relax amidst the complications of everyday life and the challenges of academic work. And in the sea of writers I've sampled, three in particular stand out alongside the unforgettable Conan Doyle: Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and P. D. James. They are my old favourites, and they rarely fail to please.

A Mind to Murder, one of James' earlier novels, is set in a psychiatric clinic in London. In the early pages of the book, debates rage--appropriately, for the sixties--over varying methods of treatment, and the owners of widely divergent opinions about matters of health and methodology are soon revealed to be also the owners of widely differing opinions about the psychology of the murderer. James does an admirable job of showcasing opinion, belief, and prejudice, and the setting is perfect for a book of such focused character study: each of James' characters is depicted not only by their author's general descriptions, but by his or her own assessments of other employees (and occasionally patients) at the clinic. All in all, this is a splendidly-wrought book and one that I enjoyed wholeheartedly.

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