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50th Anniversary of P.D. James' 'Cover Her Face'.



December 2012 signals the fiftieth anniversary of the first novel by one of the greatest writers in crime fiction. Fifty years ago this month, in 1962 Faber and Faber released the debut novel, ‘Cover Her Face’ by P.D. James.

This novel emulated Christie at her best – a village murder involving a well-established family whose very reputation is at stake. The St Cedd’s Church fete has been held on the grounds of Martingale House for many generations. The matriarch, Mrs. Eleanor Maxie is the epitome of organisation but that is put in jeopardy when she discovers her son’s engagement to their parlour maid, Sally Jupp. The following day Sally’s body is discovered and Detective Chief Inspector Dalgliesh is called in to investigate. Dalgliesh must delve below the calm exterior to uncover the stormy passions that led to murder.

I wouldn’t say this is James’ best Dalgliesh but it is certainly a very strong debut, showing the author was more concerned with bringing her characters to live rather than sacrificing them for plot. For me, James hit her stride when Dalgliesh didn’t show for nearly ten years (Death of an Expert Witness – 1977) until ‘A Taste for Death’ in 1986. From that novel onwards James’ novels were bigger, meatier and chronicled the lives of those touched by murder as well as the loves and tribulations of her detective. My personal favourite is ‘Original Sin’ which for me is the great lady at the height of her powers.

There are only fourteen Dalgliesh novels from 1962 to his last, ‘A Private Patient’ in 2008. With James’ amazing eye for detail it is no surprise that she has been credited with lifting the state of the crime novel and showing that a crime novel can be as serious and as well-written as any work of fiction. James’ body of work is something to be celebrated and Dalgliesh is a detective who will be, I am sure, enjoyed by many generations to come.

 

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