Randy Greenwald

Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

Phyllis Dorothy James

If Phyllis Dorothy James had chosen to write under her given name, I wonder if the sexist bias against a female writer of crime novels would have worked against her. If it had, we all would have been impoverished.

I’ve been reading a book she published in 1962, Cover Her Face, the first of the 14 she wrote featuring detective Adam Dalgliesh and published under her better known and supposedly more masculine name, P. D. James.

She is a delight to read, especially when given the opportunity to paint a picture for the reader using an economy of words. I share but a few here.

Regarding the medical examiner called upon to give the results of an autopsy, she says

He was a mild-voiced man with the face of a depressed St. Bernard dog who gave the impression of having walked into the proceedings by mistake.

And regarding the owner of a local grocery and gossip hub,

He was a tall, lean, cadaverous-looking man with a face of such startling unhappiness that it was difficult to believe that he was not on the brink of bankruptcy instead of the owner of a flourishing little business.

Or regarding a town hall, which

…looked as if it had been designed by a committee of morons in an excess of alcohol and ciic pride.

Whether by P. D., Phyllis, or anyone else, those are keepers.

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4 Comments

  1. Adri

    She is one of my favorite authors. Need to re-read some favorites. I remember one in particular (but not the name) in which the killer whistles “Jesus Loves Me” as he walks behind the next victim.
    I made the mistake of telling my sons that part; so while Dad is away on business and I’m upstairs reading in bed, what do I hear as one of them comes up the stairs? Of course, “the whistler”; and do you think I slept well that evening?

  2. Sarah Kaye

    I haven’t read any of her books before, and I’ve been wanting to get into something new! Also, it makes you wonder what words she would use to describe yourself if she came upon you 😉

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