Here’s a short crime story from P.D. James (1920-2014), the famous English crime writer. She’s well known for her works involving police commander Adam Dalgliesh.
But this slight offering takes the reader inside the mind of a murderer. Are you scared? You bloody well should be.
We’re not really crime reader fans, although Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is a masterpiece. Otherwise the genre is unfamiliar to us.
But we gave this a whirl all the same as the book was so cheap. And we knew of P.D. James and her legacy.
It’s a concise and suspenseful little story. The unnamed protagonist is an assistance librarian and marries the local hot stuff Elsie Bowman.
Unfortunately, after a few years of marriage she leaves him for a wealthy bloke called Rodney Collingford. Bitch!
Enraged, the spurned husband begins to plan his revenge. And this bit plays out kind of like Crime and Punishment, with Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov planning a murder. Our librarian dude notes:
"I was in no hurry to kill Collingford. I knew that I must take my time, must be patient, if I were to act safely."
It’s as this stage he turns from a slightly doddering and hapless bloke into a ruthlessly efficient killer.
So, the reader’s perception of him as a useless pushover changes fairly rapidly. Especially when the coppers get him in for questioning.
"On the whole, it was easier than I had expected. Only once did I feel myself at risk. That was when the Inspector suddenly intervened. He said in a harsh voice: 'He married your wife, didn't he? Took her away from you some people might say. Nice piece of goods, too, by the look of her. Didn't you feel any grievance?' I had been expecting this question. I knew exactly what I would say."
As it turns out, he’s canny and sly. And James reels out the short tale with a great deal of subtle panache. It’s rather masterly.
Slight at a mere 34 pages, of course, but totally worth your time. It may also spur you on to read more of this author’s work.
About P.D. James
Born in Oxford, she left school early in the 1930s as her father didn’t believe in higher education for women. What a gentleman.
James eventually worked in a tax office, before switching her attention after World War II.
Her first work was published in 1962 as Cover Her Face. This introduced the Adam Dalgliesh character to the world.
Many of these works were adapted in the 1980s into crime/mystery TV shows.
She also wrote The Children of Men (1992), which became the fantastic 2006 film Children of Men.
James was happy with the adaptation and rather proud of her association with the Hollywood production (as you would be).
Despite receiving critical acclaim, the film—rather unfortunately—wasn’t much of a hit at the box office.
But we consider it as something of a modern cult classic. So, P.D. James. We doff our caps to you in honour.