Finding work by a late author that you have revered is rare. Therefore you can imagine my excitement to see that another collection of stories by the inimitable P.D. James has been published. Last year I read and enjoyed “Mistletoe Murders: and other stories“, this year it is “Sleep no more“. And yes, there IS a murder in all six stories.
The book contains six excellently executed short stories, two of which have a Christmas theme.
An elderly man finds a red yo-yo in a box of clutter. This find spurs memories of the events that occurred when, as a child, accompanied by a teacher, he was shipped off from his boarding school to spend Christmas with his widowed grandmother.
An assistant librarian plans the ‘perfect murder’ of his celebrity ex-wife’s latest husband. This story has a delicious twist at the end – as do many of the stories in this collection.
“The murder of Santa Claus”
A mediocre mystery novelist tells the story of how his uncle, Victor Mickledore, was murdered one Christmas Eve in an atmospheric Cotswold manor house. A retired policeman, Detective Inspector John Pottinger relates his memories of the case.
“Merry Christmas, Mickledore!
Go to be and sleep no more.
Take this charm and hold it fast;
This night’s sleep shall be your last.”
P.D. James puts her own spin on the classic ‘locked room mystery’.
“The girl who loved graveyards”
An orphaned girl tells of her life living in a house in East London bordering a cemetery. “She didn’t need friends. She had the graveyard and its occupants.” She lives with her aunt and uncle and has no memory of the first decade of her life. All is revealed when she grows up and returns to the village where she was born…
“A very desirable residence”
The story of an art teacher, and the frame-up of the unpleasant math teacher at his school – whose Georgian house he covets.
“Mr. Millcroft’s birthday”
A story that works as a gleeful omen of what can happen when avarice rules your life. It tells of a cunning nursing home resident as he turns the tables on his greedy adult children.
Only P.D. James could write these nostalgic, insightful, sinister, and astute mystery stories. She portrays murder ‘as a means to an end’ – murder done by ordinary people, but told in a way that is distinctly ‘unordinary’. They are a fine balance between the succinctness of the short story form coupled with James’ famous verbosity. If pressed to pick a favorite story from this collection, I guess it would be “A very desirable residence”. The irony of the last lines is memorable.
A few quotes that I particularly enjoyed from this book:
“The young seldom lie convincingly. They haven’t had time to practice like the rest of us.”
“Memory is always disjointed, episodic.”
“Marriage is both the most public and the most secret of institutions, its miseries as irritatingly insistent as a hacking cough, its private malaise less easily diagnosed.”
I received this book from Knopf/Penguin Random House via Edelweiss in consideration of a review.
The late Phyllis Dorothy James was a prolific novelist who was constantly honing her craft right up to her death at age 94 years. Her love of words and description shines through her many novels. She was the recipient of many honors, including the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award and the National Arts Club Medal of Honor for Literature, and in 1991, she was honoured with the title of Baroness James of Holland Park. In 2008, she was inducted into the International Crime Writing Hall of Fame.
P.D. James was the author of twenty novels, fourteen of which featured her priggish and contemplative detective, Adam Dalgliesh.