Friday, November 28, 2008

My Black Friday splurge

P.D. James, that illustrious and industrious crime novelist, has made a liar of me.

Three years ago, in one of my last acts as book review editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, I wrote about her Adam Dalgliesh mystery The Lighthouse that "the final pages are unsettlingly elegiac, as if Lady James were at last saying goodbye to her beloved commander." At the time, James was 85 years old, and it was more than reasonable to conclude that she was wrapping up her career as the finest mystery writer of the postwar era.

Without her, I wrote, "the lover of the literary whodunit would be lost in a desert of bang-bang, boink-boink."

She is not everyone's cup of tea. Many readers, spoiled by modern pell-mell plotting and quick, shallow characterization, don't care for the deep detail and careful setting with which she clothes her crimes. They haven't the patience to read slowly and study the tiny clues threaded through her highly intellectual narratives. Pity, for every one of those exquisite details counts -- and, when they finally come together, always result in a deeply satisfying windup.

Now James is 88 and she's still going strong, like the recently departed Studs Terkel, who kept on writing well into his 90s. Those two shame less productive but not quite so elderly geezer-writers like me.

Nope, The Lighthouse wasn't the last Adam Dalgliesh novel. Whether she had it hidden up her sleeve all this time or changed her mind about saying farewell to her hero, I don't know. But she had still another coming.

This week she published The Private Patient (Knopf, $25.95). In this 14th outing, Commander Dalgliesh investigates the murder of a journalist at a private plastic surgery clinic.

Today I'm off to brave the Black Friday crowds at the local Barnes & Noble to buy it, and before long I'll report back on my investigation.

[LATER: Scored a copy of The Private Patient this morning for 70 per cent off the jacket price -- the standard 30 percent cut for a new popular novel plus a 40 per cent Internet coupon. If my B&N membership hadn't run out earlier this year, I'd have saved an additional 10 per cent. Incidentally, the local B&N was almost empty at 9:15 a.m. despite the Black Friday discounts; it took me five minutes to find the book and deal with the single clerk on duty. Times may be even harder than we thought if readers aren't patronizing bookstores.]

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