pdjames-themurderroomCrime novelist PD James, who penned more than 20 books, has died aged 94.
Her agent said she died “peacefully at her home in Oxford” on Thursday morning.
The author’s books, many featuring sleuth Adam Dalgliesh, sold millions of books around the world, with various adaptations for television and film.
(“PD James, crime novelist, dies aged 94,” Entertainment & Arts, BBC News, 27 November 2014)

We read the above announcement with some degree of sadness. PD James and her books hold a special place for Bernice and myself. When Bernice and I first met, in our very first conversation, we discovered that we both liked murder mysteries and we both liked the work of PD James. This discovery held the promise that there might be other ways we connected.

My entry into the reading of murder mystery novels was discovering the works of Agatha Christie when I was finishing my final year at Regent College. Her books became life-giving distractions when I was working on my ThM thesis. I graduated from Agatha Christie to Ruth Rendell and PD James, and then on to others. British female authors seem to excel in this genre.

I was pleasantly surprised that one of my lecturers at Regent, theologian James I Packer, was a fan of murder mystery novels. In my last visit with him some years ago, we talked more about mystery novels than theology. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Christian author John Leax explains:

Mysteries are about crime and justice. An ordered world is disturbed, usually by a murder. A genius, Peter Wimsey, Albert Campion, or Adam Dalgliesh, enters, exercises either intellect or intuition, discovers (often through some trial or imaginative identification with the criminal) who-done-it, and without revoking the horror, restores order. Once again the pattern of the Christian story of sin, retribution, and restoration is acted out. (John Leax, Grace Is Where I Live, [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1993], 112.)

PD James agrees.

“What the detective story is about is not murder, but the restoration of order,” she said. (Claer Barrett and John Aglionby, “British crime novelist PD James dies aged 94,” Obituaries, ft.com, 27 November 2014)

A postmodern world eschews any notion of absolute, objective meaning. Ethics like most things is seen as purely perspectival. Yet the continuing popularity of murder mysteries seems to indicate that deep in our hearts, we still believe in justice and are offended when someone has been the victim of injustice. It’s just not right and we want to see justice done and order restored.

Every day brings more reminders of man’s inhumanity to man. There is much wrong with our world. We need a hero to enter the story to set things right. Christmas reminds us that that Hero has entered human history to begin that process. We have not yet reached the end of the story but the Hero has begun His work of restoring creation to proper order. We take a peek at the last chapter and know that things turn out all right in the end. Therefore we are encouraged in the face of the many things wrong in our world and are inspired to help the Hero in His mission.

In celebrating the life and work of PD James I am going to dig out my old PD James books. I confess I enjoy her earlier works more than her more recent ones. And reading murder mysteries continues to be a favourite past time for Bernice and myself. (A recent favourite author is Louise Penny.) We appreciate good writing but, dare I say it, reading murder mysteries is also part of our spiritual formation. Again, quoting John Leax:

It became clear to me that I read fiction not only for the excitement and diversion of the story but for the affirmation of meaning inherent in its pattern, its bedrock belief in an ordered world where actions have both consequences and meanings. (John Leax, Grace Is Where I Live, 112.)

So goodbye PD James, and thank you.