A Sister in Crime recently posed that question.
I told her my favorite mystery author is–
Agatha Christie / Donna Leon / Josephine Tey / Margery Allingham / Ngaio Marsh / Ruth Rendell / Mary Roberts Rinehart / Sarah Caudwell / Sophie Hannah / Ellis Peters / Elizabeth Peters / Elizabeth George / Dorothy L. Sayers / Patricia Highsmith / Minette Walters / Mary Willis Walker / Kaye George / Terry Shames / Karin Fossum / Cammie McGovern / Laura Lippman / Anne Perry / Ann George / Joan Hess / Faye Kellerman / Daphne DuMaurier / Carolyn Keene . . .
And others too numerous to mention.
That’s typical. When asked to choose a favorite, I come down somewhere between wishy-washy and overwhelmed. There are so many writers whose books I enjoy, each for a different reason.
I like Josephine Tey for her ability to keep readers feverishly turning pages of a mystery in which there’s not even a hint of murder.
I like Sarah Caudwell for her wit and for her erudite narrator, Professor of Medieval Law Hilary Tamar, who couldn’t solve a crime if the answer jumped up and bit her.
I like Donna Leon for her vivid depiction of Venice, and for Commissario Guido Brunetti, increasingly cynical about the possibility of dispensing justice in a corrupt society, who finds refuge in his home and family.
I like Ruth Rendell for her complex and amazingly tight plotting, and her ability to drop in one more revelation when the reader thinks all questions have already been answered.
I like Daphne DuMaurier for–well, for the reasons everyone else likes her.
My Sister, however, pressed me to give her only one name. The reason? She had an idea for a SINC ~ Heart of Texas Chapter (HOTXSINC) program focusing on a mystery author, a celebration of that writer’s life and work.
To that, the answer was both immediate and obvious: P. D. James, acknowledged by both critics and readers as the premier writer of mysteries in the English language.
I like James for her complex plots, and for characters so fully realized that their lives seem to extend beyond the pages of the book. I like her because she plays fair with the reader, hiding clues in plain sight. I like her for her clean, elegant prose and her literary style. James feels no need to start with a murder on page one, but takes her time, introducing characters, establishing relationships, orienting the reader in time and place. Her pace is leisurely, and the reader who tears through a James novel, intent on learning the identity of the villain and moving on to the next title on his To-Be-Read stack misses half the pleasure her mysteries offer.
In addition to the skill and stature that make James a perfect choice for HOTXSINC’s program is the fact that a television adaptation of her latest novel, Death Comes to Pemberley, based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, is scheduled for airing on PBS Masterpiece Mystery! at the end of October.
Finally, there’s the fact that on August 3rd of this year, James celebrated her ninety-fourth birthday. The birthday of a favorite mystery writer certainly merits a party.
The Sister who came up with the idea for the celebration is Sarah Ann Robertson, past president and treasurer/membership coordinator for HOTXSINC. As is only fair, since it was her idea, I asked her to coordinate it. As always, she’s done an excellent job.
The program will feature presentations by members on James’ life and work, including Youtube videos of interviews with the author. Special guests Maria Rodriguez, Director of Programming for KLRU-TV, will present an overview of KLRU/PBS “Mystery!”, based on mysteries by female authors, and Linda Lehmusvirta, KLRU Senior Producer for Central Texas Gardener and a P. D. James enthusiast, will speak about P. D. James’ televised mysteries on KLRU/PBS.
The celebration will take place at Recycled Reads, 5335 Burnet Road, Austin, TX 78756, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m., on Sunday, September 14. The meeting is free and open to the public.
Please join us.
For a bibliography of P. D. James’ publications, click here.
To read about the traditional English afternoon tea, click here.
Kathy Waller blogs at To Write Is to Write Is to Write (kathywaller1.com).