Who better to discuss the history of detective fiction than P.D. James, one of the foremost
female writers of detective fiction.
In this book James explores the genre's origins and discusses its lasting appeal. She names
in White as the first detective novel. She attributes the appeal of Conan Doyle not so
much to the character, Sherlock Holmes, as to the atmosphere the author created.
Most of James’ discussion is devoted to what has been called the Golden Age of British
Detective Fiction (the period between World War I and World War II). She names four authors
(Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L Sayers, and Margery Allingham) as the "four heavyweights."
She gives them credit for laying the groundwork for all female writers who have followed (not
that she has neglected such writers as Dashiell Hammett and Peter Lovesey and Raymond Chandler).
James predicts that the detective story will survive but will change in its stress on realism.
Its format is changing also from book form to ebooks... as is the manner in which the author
writes... no longer the typewriter or written manuscript but directly on a computer.
James includes a fund of information about the genre to create a desire for readers to refresh
or renew their familiarity with old favorites too often neglected.