According to The Guardian, James isn’t the first novelist to be fascinated by the case “which Raymond Chandler described as the ‘the nonpareil of all murder mysteries’. Dorothy L. Sayers wrote that it ‘provides for the detective novelist an unrivalled field for speculation’.”
Writing in the Sunday Times magazine, James claimed that the murder of Julia Wallace in Liverpool, which “compares only to the Ripper murders in 1888 in the amount of writing, both fiction and non-fiction, which it has created”, was misunderstood from the beginning by the police, the judge and jury.The Guardian goes on to detail the available clues that convinced James her positing was correct.
Her 1982 novel, The Skull Beneath the Skin, the fictional murder of Lady Ralston, is thought to parallel the Wallace case, and she refers to it directly in the detective chief-inspector Dalgliesh novel, The Murder Room (2003).
The case is “essentially tragic and has psychological subtleties to which it would take a Balzac to do justice,” James wrote. She builds a picture of Wallace as a man worn down by failure and disappointment who eventually cracked: “Perhaps when he struck the first tremendous blow that killed her, and the 10 afterwards delivered with such force, it was years of striving and constant disappointment that he was obliterating.”Back in 2002, Patricia Cornwell put forth a similarly forceful theory with regards to the true identity of Jack the Ripper, a theory she outlined closely in her non-fiction book Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper--Case Closed.
READ MORE: “P.D. James and the Wallace Case--a Classic Murder Mystery” and “P.D. James and True Crime Writing--a Few More Thoughts,” by Martin Edwards (‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’); “Inside Job: 10 Crime Writers Turned Detective” (The Guardian).