Books: Crime's Le Carre: A Taste for Death

by P.D. James Knopf; 459 pages; $18.95

Just a few decades ago, the whodunit formula demanded by both publishers and readers was compact -- and cozy: 180 pages of pure deduction and cardboard characters propped up in a long-gone rural England. Along with a handful of other contemporary crime writers including Dick Francis and Ruth Rendell, P.D. James, 66, has gracefully shattered the rules. In her best and most ambitious tale to date, A Taste for Death -- her ninth mystery novel in 24 years -- James has become a kind of Le Carre of crime, blending the calmer depths of mainstream fiction with the white rapids of...

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