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Book Review: Sleep No More (Six Murderous Tales) by P.D. James


Drew Payne

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This was the second collection of short stories published posthumously after PD James’s death. Not known for her short story, this collection gives a very different view of James’s writing. She’s known for her very well written novels, where the handsome and cultured Commander Dalgliesh steps in and meticulously takes apart a vicious crime. Instead, these stories present murder where the guilty aren’t punished, and some are even rewarded.

In several of these short stories the central character is the murderer, men plotting their revenge. The other stories are told from the point-of-view of an innocent caught up in a murder. The Girl Who Loved Graveyards is the stand out story of this collection. It begins with an almost modern fairy tale feel and ends with a nasty shock. The weakest story is by far Mr. Millcroft’s Birthday. It felt like James was trying for a lighter, more satirical tone, unfortunately she missed her mark. James excelled with a dark tone in her writing, where she leans into this with these stories then the story is far better for it.

These stories rely on nostalgia, most of them are set long before they were written, and they benefit from it. This is not the nostalgia of cosy crime, instead she uses her setting to aid her stories. These are stories where people can be easily isolated, where the police are far away, where forensics are not there to save the day. Instead, these are stories full of dark human behaviour. But these stories also pack a punch with a twist in the tale, an unforeseen ending.

These stories are very different to James’s Dalgliesh novels, and show she had a talent for dark, gothic stories. Maybe she might have had an alternative career writing novels in this style, or maybe she just enjoyed writing the occasional dark, gothic short story. This is still a fascinating and dark collection of short stories, showing why James was such an accomplished writer, which I finished reading all too quickly.

Find it here on Amazon

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