Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales (James)

Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales - P. D. James, Peter Kemp

P.D. James' estate has gone back to the well for this second annual book of short stories in time for Christmas sales, and I for one am very glad they did.  There's variety in tone and setting amongst the six stories, but they have in common James' clear prose, strong sense of character, and the "twist in the tail" that is one of the delights of this genre. Of the six, four are told in the first person, a good expedient for twists, since the narrator merely has to withhold one pertinent piece of information. Several (including the most shudder-inducing, "The Girl Who Loved Graveyards" - interestingly not one of the 1st-person ones) are tied closely to the viewpoint of a child or youth, and often are distanced from the actual telling by the lifetime of that person. Moral ambiguity abounds; there are comeuppances, but we are not allowed to rest in simple notions of good characters and bad characters, even within the narrow bounds of short fiction.

All of the stories are comfortably distanced from us in time (two are explicitly set in World War II, with all the accompanying paraphernalia of blackouts and the hovering menace of much greater disturbance than a mere country house murder or clifftop shove). No-one is distressingly poor, distressingly foreign, or distressingly gender-atypical. In this sense, but in no other, you might stretch the term "cozy" to cover these stories. I don't find some of the characters - most particularly the murderer in the aforementioned "Girl Who Loved Graveyards" to be in any way cozy or comfortable, but it's true that, the subtitle notwithstanding, this collection not only did not rob me of sleep, but sent me off happy and satisfied with another taste of P.D. James.