Classic crime

P.D. James' Cover Her Face is the first in her series of classic crime novels. Classic because they follow very firmly in the footsteps of earlier British crime writers, such as Christie and Sayers. Cover her face was praised by the critic and writer, H.R.F. Keating for its depth of characterisation, which set it apart from other crime fiction of the 1960s.

Nearly 50 years on from its debut, I don't think Cover her face has aged particularly well. The plotting of the crime is well constructed, James adroitly throws red herrings across the path of the reader, and there is much to be admired in the novel as a crime novel. But reading it now, I sometimes find it unbearably snobbish. It's odd, but not having read the novel for 10 years or so, I find the snobbery and middle-classness of the novel much worse now than I did then. Whether this is down to a change in me, or down to a change in the attitudes of society (and so inevitably to a certain extent me), I don't know; but I often found this an uncomfortable read.

The victim herself is a complex character, and James describes this well, but by creating such a complex character most of the others seem thin and insubstantial. This novel still remains a classic, but for James at her best have a read of some of her slightly later novels such as the previously reviewed Death of an expert witness or the brilliant A Taste for Death.


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