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Book News: P.D. James Says She's Solved A Real Murder

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

The 93-year-old crime novelist P.D. James believes she has solved the 1931 murder of Julia Wallace, the inspiration for her 1982 novel The Skull Beneath the Skin. In an article for The Sunday Times [subscription required], she writes that, "a solution to the mystery came into my mind with the strength of an absolute conviction."

In Liverpool in 1931, William Herbert Wallace was convicted of killing his wife Julia, but the conviction was later overturned. Wallace said he left his home after a mysterious message came to his chess club asking him to come to an address that turned out not to exist. When he came back, his wife was dead. The police suspected that Wallace had placed the call himself to provide an alibi. James theorizes that though William Herbert Wallace did, in fact, kill his wife, the call came as a prank call from a local man and one of the other chief suspects, Richard Parry, who had lost his job when Wallace exposed him for cooking books. She believes the fact that the call came on the night Wallace killed his wife was a coincidence. The historian Lucy Worsley told the Sunday Times that she's skeptical: "You would have some difficulty in convincing me that Wallace was guilty. He had the grave misfortune to look like a murderer, but his diary from the very end part of his life revealed that he missed his wife." As The Guardian points out, this isn't the first time mystery novelists have tackled real-world murders: in 2002, Patricia Cornwell claimed that the painter Walter Sickert was Jack-the-Ripper.

Novelist Rivka Galchen argues in The New York Times that fiction can tell truths more effectively than nonfiction: "Mostly we read the nonfiction that suits our fancy, and tend to ignore that which does not. Not for aphoristic economy alone did Nietzsche observe that convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies. Because we are less sure of what fiction is 'saying,' we are less pre-emptively defended against it or biased in its favor. We are inclined to let it past our fortifications. It's merely a court jester, there to amuse us. We let in the brazen liar and his hidden, difficult truths."

The Irish Independent reports that Fianna Fail, Ireland's center-right party, is working to abolish the country's Censorship of Publications Board. Justice spokesperson Niall Collins, who introduced the bill in the Irish parliament, called the board "as dead as the parrot in Monty Python." Historically, Ireland has had one of the strictest censorship programs in western Europe, with Robert Graves calling it "the fiercest literary censorship this side of the Iron Curtain." But in recent years, the board has seen little use, with only eight books referred to it and none banned.

The New York Times, citing anonymous sources, reports that Morrissey's autobiography has been acquired by G.P. Putnam's Sons, the Penguin Random House imprint. Morissey's autobiography has been wildly popular in Europe, and the subject of headlines in the U.S. because it holds personal revelations from the very private English singer.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.
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