Title: Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales
Author: P.D. James
Genre: Crime Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin/Faber Fiction
Published: 25th October 2017
Synopsis: A second collection of short stories from P.D. James. Six further stories are published together for the first time in a beautiful hardback edition.
As a companion volume to The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories, a further six of P. D. James’s ingenious short stories are published here together for the first time.
As the six murderous tales unfold, the dark motive of revenge is revealed at the heart of each. Bullying schoolmasters receive their comeuppance, unhappy marriages and childhoods are avenged, a murder in the small hours of Christmas Day puts an end to the vicious new lord of the manor, and, from the safety of his nursing home, an octogenarian exerts exquisite retribution.
The punishments inflicted on the guilty are fittingly severe, but here they are meted out by the unseen forces of natural justice rather than the institutions of the law. Once again, P. D. James shows her expert control of the short-story form, conjuring motives and scenarios with complete conviction, and each with a satisfying twist in the tail.
P. D. James (1920-2014) was born in Oxford and educated at Cambridge High School for Girls. From 1949 to 1968 she worked in the National Health Service and subsequently in the Home Office, first in the Police Department and later in the Criminal Policy Department. All that experience was used in her novels. She was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the Royal Society of Arts and served as a Governor of the BBC, a member of the Arts Council, where she was Chairman of the Literary Advisory Panel, on the Board of the British Council and as a magistrate in Middlesex and London. She was an Honorary Bencher of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple. She won awards for crime writing in Britain, America, Italy and Scandinavia, including the Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster Award and The National Arts Club Medal of Honor for Literature (US). She received honorary degrees from seven British universities, was awarded an OBE in 1983 and was created a life peer in 1991. In 1997 she was elected President of the Society of Authors, stepping down from the post in August 2013.
Sleep No More is a post-humus collection of short fiction by P.D. James. These six short stories hold dark motives within the characters, with revenge at the heart of the cries. A bullying schoolmaster gets comeuppance years in the making, and unhappy childhoods and marriages are avenged, whilst a Christmas murder ends the life of the new lord of the manor, and an elderly man in a nursing home reveals deep, dark secrets that lead to blackmail and retribution. In each of these stories, the psychology of the murder is explored, and each person linked to the dead becomes a suspect. In a series of stories where the narrator, suspect or blackmailer appears to know more than they let on, these stories are chilling and make you think, and question what you know from the information presented to you in the story. Each story is chilling and surprising, and keeps the reader guessing.
It is always a challenge reviewing a short story collection – often because knowing whether to comment on each story individually, or the collection as a whole and whether or not each story is related or interconnected are things to be considered in the review. With Sleep No More, each story is its own creepy, spine tingling, and sleep stealing entity, where killers hide in plain sight, and where justice it seems, might not be doled out, and the abundance of suspects, or lack or witnesses, ensures a disturbing mystery for all involved. In these stories, the idea that justice is meted out by those wronged by those they murder rather than the justice system of police officers, who play a rather peripheral role, is dealt with in an interesting way. This kind of justice, whilst might be seen as justified, questions the ethics and morality of the characters and the reader, whom, as with some of Roald Dahl’s stories, sympathises and empathises with the characters wronged and who gained revenge, and at the same time, celebrates these acts as justified based on what the reader has been told.
They pose the question – what is justice and who deserves to mete it out, and how? In these stories, it is not the justice system people put their trust in to do so, but take their own actions to achieve justice.
Over the years that P.D. James wrote these stories, they appeared in different publications, sometimes under different titles, but now, they are collected together, linked by murder and nefarious secrets that the narrators have, that are hinted at, with great skill at creating a mystery where the true killer may not be revealed, and at presenting two different perspectives in first person, as in the Christmas themed story.
Fans of PD.D James and crime will enjoy these short stories, for their unique way of looking at how one can get away with a crime, and what that person or people might do to ensure they’re never caught.