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Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Murder Room

Just finished listening to the audio CD version of The Murder Room, by P.D. James. It makes an interesting contrast to the Greg Bear novel that I discussed in yesterday’s post. (No, I don’t find it confusing to listen to one work of fiction during the day and then read a different one the same evening, except in the rare cases where the two are set in the same milieu.) This typically long P.D. James novel (432 pages in the hardback version) is representative of her work in all other respects as well: nominally a mystery, it’s more of a police procedural, and still more of a mainstream novel rather than a genre piece. Characterization and psychology matter more than plot. Descriptions are loving expounded in detail. There are numerous conflicts other than whodunit. As with other novels by the now-83-year-old James, it’s not exactly light reading — or light listening in this case. If the attention flags, you miss something important, usually about a person, not a plot point.

An Audio File review of the audio CD edition quoted on Amazon says this:
Charles Keating is expert with both the narration and the wide range of characters. He is particularly talented at creating accents and speech patterns that illuminate personalities. While he is generally better with male voices than female ones, that is true for many male narrators and isn't a serious quibble. An utterly involving listen.
I couldn’t agree more. The characters definitely come alive, especially the male ones: it feels more like watching a play than listening to someone tell a story.

And I suppose I have to quote an excerpt from the review in the Independent, also found on Amazon:
In a sense, James is the last of the great Golden Age crime writers. She has an instinctive grasp of narrative: despite the leisurely prose, the shocks are beautifully handled. The plot purrs along like a well-designed and well-maintained engine. James writes with rare authority about the civil service, the police and the justice system. She also does an exceptionally good corpse — she never cheapens the physical appearance of death, but describes it with both respect and clinical attention to detail.
I’d rather write my own review, but I can’t top that.

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