I don't read crime very much, and almost never anything published after the 1960s (with the exception of C. J. Sansom's wonderful historical Matthew Shardlake series). But, having neglected to take sufficient holiday reading, I was thrown back on limited resources, and so I found myself reading P. D. James, who I've always heard spoken highly of - although in the fields of genre writing (or indeed other fields) this isn't necessarily any guarantee). My opinion after reading one work, though, is very much in agreement.
The plot concerns the murder of Venetia Aldridge, a high-flying lawyer who (as is so often the case) has provided various acquaintances with numerous reasons to wish for her death. One of the quotes on the book characterised James' work as 'Dickensian,' and, while the humorous and satirical aspect of Dickens' writing isn't to be found here, the atmosphere James creates around Chancery and the Inns of the Court (a legalistic atmosphere which might appear the driest possible setting) reminded me favourably of the only work of Dickens' that I have much time for, Bleak House. James' writing is sharp, clean, and observant, while the murder itself and the question of whodunnit, particularly in the early part of the book, takes a back seat to, or provides a vehicle for, characterisation and psychological observation. Adam Dalgliesh, James' well-known investigator, doesn't even appear until a good third of the way through the book.
While the plot itself isn't quite as 'realist' as every other aspect of the novel, and I found aspects of the denouement unsatisfactory (and thus perhaps more realist than most crime novels), overall I greatly enjoyed this work both from the perspective of a genre crime piece, and that of a work of literature. I'll definitely be reading more P. D. James.