The Mistletoe Murder and other stories (James)

The Mistletoe Murder: And Other Stories - P. D. James

It's a slight volume - only four stories - but nicely presented, and now that P.D. James is gone from us, any new material is a bonus. The book will make a very nice Christmas gift (I'm sure it will pass around to every member of my family), the more so since two of the four stories have Christmas settings. There's a cogent brief introduction by James on the subject of short story writing, so it's clear that this project must have been in the works well before her passing. I thought perhaps it might just be a collection of stories previously published in periodicals, but no acknowledgment of previous publication is present. The last story - one of two that feature Dalgliesh - is very arch and self-referential, positioning itself as a pastiche of an Agatha Christie tale, and Dalgliesh actually comments to himself that the opening incident seems like something out of a story for an upper-class magazine.

 

James proves herself to be a highly competent short story writer, though this format denies her the chance to use her novelistic talents of detailed characterization and scene-setting, or the leisurely unwinding of plot. Instead, as she decrees in her introduction, each story is pointed firmly towards the sting or twist in its final paragraphs.

 

Reading this was a wistful pleasure: a last, too brief, conversation with a friend one had come to know and love.