I am continuing to work through the Adam Dalgliesh mystery series slowly. I am not sure how long PD James wrote the series, but the books I am working on how were written in the late 1960s. So far the books have been fairly out of time. You know they are in the 20th century, but no cell phones or computers exist. It is only at the very end that there is a cultural reference that dates the book. It matters to the story, so I will not reveal the reference, but I have appreciated the writing being somewhat out of time.
The series is less physiological than my current favorite mystery series, Inspector Gamache, but I am enjoying the very slow development of Dalgliesh as a character. Part of what I thought about with this book is that Dalgliesh’s moral and ethical character is essential. Moral and ethical character matter in almost every role in life, but particularly with positions of authority and justice, the person filling those roles matters. One of the officers working for Dalgliesh is a prominent character in this book, and that officer does not have exemplary character for the job. The comparison between them is being set up for what I assume with be a plot point in a later book.
I have just started Karen Swallow Prior’s new book, The Evangelical Imagination. As a literature professor, she is approaching the role of the imagination in helping to define the social imaginary (Charles Taylor’s term) of what is possible. Simple fiction books like this series give the reader a sense of what is possible. Murder mysteries, in particular, may raise fears about how prevalent murder is or how easy it is to catch murderers. But they also build connections of how people come to big crimes through smaller inactions. How we think about the world is shaped by the type and quality of books we read (or TV, movies, web videos, video games, etc.)
I think there is a reason that PD James is such a well-known author and that this series has been recommended by so many and I think the Evangelical Imagination is giving some hints as to why this more than 50-year-old series has stayed in print.