Farewell, PD James, it was a pleasure to read you

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 30, 2014

PD James is gone at age 94. Lovers of literary mysteries are bereft. Her complex novels, complete with collateral damage and the lasting effects of murder, rose above and beyond the traditional cozy.

James didn’t moralize, she showed the reader all the ugly parts of death, left out gruesome details, and made her detective, Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard, into a lonely, brilliant man women loved.

She did it without romance, without tidying everything up, haunting readers with a tale of horrible wrongs.

James took her time to write a book, doing research that often involved personal explorations of plot devices, including visiting a nuclear power plant.

She often said settings inspired her, and it showed. Each place was vivid, especially if it was damp, dreary, isolated. James was an expert at setting tone.

Her characters were equally well drawn and complicated, with long histories.

I devoured her novels, eagerly awaiting each new one. Her prose was clean and compelling. Any embellishment had an important part in the plot.

Some of the books were made into PBS “Mysteries,” starring Roy Marsden as Dalgliesh, a choice James was never comfortable with. Still, those productions spiked interest in her books.

She wrote a fascinating memoir, “Time to be in Earnest,” and an apocalyptic science-fiction novel, “The Children of Men.” She had a facile, curious mind and was precise in every aspect.

Sitting with a James novel is like having a conversation with an erudite friend. I will miss her.

Here are PD James’ 10 tips for writing novels:

1. You must be born to write.

2. Write what you know.

3. Find your own routine.

4. Be aware that the business is changing.

5. Read, write and don’t daydream!

6. Enjoy your own company.

7. Choose a good setting.

8. Never go anywhere without a notebook.

9. Never talk about a book before it is finished.

10. Know when to stop.