I’m not sure when I read my first P.D.James novel, I’ve now read them all, and most of them several times so my memories of the reading as opposed to the actual novels is a little misty. I think I probably started reading them the same time I also was reading Ruth Rendell’s mysteries. I knew that P.D.James books were a cut above many of the usual crime fiction novels I read, and very much enjoyed them, and some of the scenes have stayed with me, almost haunted me. The red dress on a coat hanger hanging from a picture rail, the man who accidentally lit the wrong end of a cigarette, so many more. At some point I found out that I had attended the same school that Patricia Dorothy James had attended, although several decades after her, she was born in 1920 so she would have been there some time in the 1930’s.
The books by her which I particularly enjoyed were the Adam Dalgleish novels, a very cerebral detective, a widower who writes poetry and is very different from his colleagues, and in fact probably totally unrealistic. However, with a great writer, even the most unbelievable character can spring from the page and seem totally authentic. The novels, although complex, translated to TV very well with serious Roy Marsden as Dalgleish; it was a very popular and well-thought of series, and although obviously the on-screen story and characters differed greatly from the original, they were still clever, and in their own way believable.
Now there is a new series, still set in the 1970’s but with Bertie Carvel, another great actor in the title role. I have seen the first episode, and I’m reserving judgment. Marsden’s Dalgleish was filmed in the 1980’s and although not contemporary to the books, they seemed of the time. Now, a series being shown half a century after the book on which it was based was published obviously has to set its scenes in a bygone time with a huge gap. It’s almost a historical drama! So I guess the producers had a dilemma; they couldn’t bring it up to date with the personal technology we have such as mobile phones, computers, the internet etc, and all the sophisticated scientific aspects of a police investigation into a crime, but the new series couldn’t be a historical drama – it had to crack along at a fair pace, engaging the viewers in the mystery which Dalgleish was set to solve.
I have watched the first episode – as someone who saw the originals and trying to put aside memories of Marsden as Dalgleish and replace him with the excellent Carvel. The first episode seems slow, and somehow a little awkward, the seventies as portrayed is not as I remember them. However, I am looking forward to seeing the next episodes and reserve judgement and not give way to my memories of the original series. Maybe I will reread the novel on which it’s based, ‘Shroud for a Nightingale’.
My featured image is of teh school I attended – I’m not sure whether this is the same building P.D.James knew!