Monday, 8 July 2019

PD James vs Lee Child

I was partway through 61 Hours by Lee Child when I set off on  holiday, but had finished it within a couple of days. Fortunately there's a brilliant community bookshop in Lynton, so I had a browse and came out with A Taste For Death by PD James. I can't quite believe it, but this is the first of her books I've ever read. I can't even remember watching any of the TV adaptations with Ray Marsden as Adam Dalgliesh. (I've just Googled this and discovered that Martin Shaw played him in later series; how did I miss that?!)

I was struck by huge differences between the two books, not just in content - Lee Child's Jack Reacher books are thrillers, rather than detective mysteries - but also in style. LC's books are pacy and full of short, tense sentences. 61 Hours opens with 'Five minutes to three in the afternoon. Exactly sixty-one hours before it happened.'  ATFD's opening sentence is 46 words long.

I gather from the back cover that PDJ wanted to be 'a serious novelist within the bonds of the genre', and certainly ATFD feels quite literary in tone. I'd go so far as to say I enjoyed the writing more than the story.

It felt curiously old-fashioned, though. When you read an Agatha Christie novel, you know it's going to be set way back when, but ATDF was first published in 1986. I know that's over 30 years ago, but this book doesn't reflect the mid-80s that I remember.

Two examples. The word 'beribboned' appears twice in two pages,  once to describe a basket of flowers and then on the next page to describe some women in a picture - and it caused me to stumble, mentally, because my brain initially interpreted it as 'berry boned'. Then there is a lengthy description of one of the female characters in which PDJ feels it necessary to point out 'She was hatless', as though that was somehow unusual. Really, in 1986?

I know some of you will think this is heretical, but I shan't read another Dalgliesh novel. Give me Jack Reacher any day.


  1. To each his or her own. If we all liked the same books, the world would be a boring place.

  2. Very interesting, Julia. I really like the PD James novels but have only read one Jack Reacher - can see your point but they are too different to compare! The PDJ TV dramatisations were really good. Only seen one Reacher film which I enjoyed.

    1. I can't bring myself to see the films. Tom Cruise is just not Jack Reacher!