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P. D. James

Phyllis Dorothy James, Baroness James of Holland Park, (3 August 1920 – 27 November 2014), known professionally as P. D. James, was an English crime writer. She rose to fame for her series of detective novels starring police commander and poet Adam Dalgliesh.

Life and career

James was born in Oxford, the daughter of Sidney James, a tax inspector, and educated at the British School in Ludlow and Cambridge High School for Girls. She had to leave school at the age of sixteen to work because her family did not have much money and her father did not believe in higher education for girls. She worked in a tax office for three years and later found a job as an assistant stage manager for a theatre group. In 1941, she married Ernest Connor Bantry White, an army doctor. They had two daughters, Clare and Jane.

When White returned from the Second World War, he was experiencing mental illness, and James was forced to provide for the whole family until her husband's death in 1964. With her husband in a psychiatric institution and their daughters being mostly cared for by his parents, James studied hospital administration and from 1949 to 1968 worked for a hospital board in London. She began writing in the mid-1950s, using her maiden name ("My genes are James genes").

Her first novel, Cover Her Face, featuring the investigator and poet Adam Dalgliesh of New Scotland Yard, named after a teacher at Cambridge High School, was published in 1962. Many of James's mystery novels take place against the backdrop of UK bureaucracies, such as the criminal justice system and the National Health Service, in which she worked for decades starting in the 1940s. Two years after the publication of Cover Her Face, James's husband died, and she took a position as a civil servant within the criminal section of the Home Office. She worked in government service until her retirement in 1979.

In 1991, James was created a life peer as Baroness James of Holland Park. She sat in the House of Lords as a Conservative. She was an Anglican and a lay patron of the Prayer Book Society. Her 2001 work, Death in Holy Orders, displays her familiarity with the inner workings of church hierarchy. Her later novels were often set in a community closed in some way, such as a publishing house or barristers' chambers, a theological college, an island or a private clinic. Talking About Detective Fiction was published in 2009. Over her writing career, James also wrote many essays and short stories for periodicals and anthologies, which have yet to be collected. She revealed in 2011 that The Private Patient was the final Dalgliesh novel.

As guest editor of BBC Radio 4's Today programme in December 2009, James conducted an interview with the Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson, in which she seemed critical of some of his decisions. Regular Today presenter Evan Davis commented that "She shouldn't be guest editing; she should be permanently presenting the programme." In 2008, she was inducted into the International Crime Writing Hall of Fame at the inaugural ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards.

In August 2014, James was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September's referendum on that issue.

James' main home was her house on Holland Park Avenue, the area from which she took her title: she also owned homes in Oxford, and Southwold.

James died at her home in Oxford on 27 November 2014, aged 94. She is survived by her two daughters, Clare and Jane, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Film and television

During the 1980s, many of James's mystery novels were adapted for television by Anglia Television for the ITV network in the UK. These productions have been broadcast in other countries, including the US on the PBS network. They featured Roy Marsden as Adam Dalgliesh. According to James in conversation with Bill Link on 3 May 2001 at the Writer's Guild Theatre, Los Angeles, Marsden "is not my idea of Dalgliesh, but I would be very surprised if he were." The BBC adapted Death in Holy Orders in 2003, and The Murder Room in 2004, both as one-off dramas starring Martin Shaw as Dalgliesh.

Her novel The Children of Men (1992) was the basis for the feature film Children of Men (2006), directed by Alfonso Cuarón and starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore and Michael Caine. Despite substantial changes from the book, James was reportedly pleased with the adaptation and proud to be associated with the film. James even has a cameo in the film's opening scene, watching the news while holding a dog.


TV and film adaptations

Adam Dalgliesh series

  • Death of an Expert Witness (1983)
  • Shroud for a Nightingale (1984)
  • Cover Her Face (1985)
  • The Black Tower (1985)
  • A Taste For Death (1988)
  • Devices and Desires (1991)
  • Unnatural Causes (1993)
  • A Mind to Murder (1995)
  • Original Sin (1997)
  • A Certain Justice (1998)
  • Death in Holy Orders (2003)
  • The Murder Room (2004)

Other novels

  • An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (1997, 1998, 1999, 2001)
  • Children of Men (feature film) (2006)
  • Death Comes to Pemberley (2011)

Selected awards and honours


  • Officer of the Order of the British Empire, 1983
  • Associate Fellow of Downing College, Cambridge, 1986
  • Life peerage, Baroness James of Holland Park, of Southwold in the County of Suffolk, 7 February 1991
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts
  • President of the Society of Authors 1997–2013

Honorary doctorates

  • University of Buckingham, 1992
  • University of Hertfordshire, 1994
  • University of Glasgow, 1995
  • University of Essex, 1996
  • University of Durham, 1998
  • University of Portsmouth, 1999
  • University of London, 1993

Honorary fellowships

  • St Hilda's College, Oxford, 1996
  • Girton College, Cambridge, 2000
  • Downing College, Cambridge, 2000
  • Kellogg College, Oxford
  • Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, 2012


  • 1971 Best Novel Award, Mystery Writers of America (runner-up): Shroud for a Nightingale
  • 1972 Crime Writers' Association (CWA) Macallan Silver Dagger for Fiction: Shroud for a Nightingale
  • 1973 Best Novel Award, Mystery Writers of America (runner-up): An Unsuitable Job for a Woman
  • 1976 CWA Macallan Silver Dagger for Fiction: The Black Tower
  • 1986 Mystery Writers of America Best Novel Award (runner-up): A Taste for Death
  • 1987 CWA Macallan Silver Dagger for Fiction: A Taste for Death
  • 1987 CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger (lifetime achievement award)
  • 1992 Deo Gloria Award: The Children of Men
  • 1992 The Best Translated Crime Fiction of the Year in Japan, Kono Mystery ga Sugoi! 1992: Devices and Desires
  • 1999 Grandmaster Award, Mystery Writers of America
  • 2002 WH Smith Literary Award (shortlist): Death in Holy Orders
  • 2005 British Book Awards Crime Thriller of the Year (shortlist): The Murder Room
  • 2007 Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award (longlist): The Lighthouse
  • 2010 Best Critical Nonfiction Anthony Award for Talking About Detective Fiction
  • 2010 Nick Clarke Award for interview with Director-General of the BBC Mark Thompson whilst guest editor of Today radio programme.


  • Shusha Guppy (Summer 1995). "P. D. James, The Art of Fiction No. 141". The Paris Review.
  • The Guardian', 4-3-01. Accessed 2010-09-15
  • The Sunday Herald newspaper (U.K.), 13-9-08. Accessed 2010-09-15
  • CBC News broadcasting (Canada), 22-9-08. Accessed 2010-09-15
  • The Globe and Mail (Canada), 30-1-09. Accessed 2010-09-15
  • The Daily Telegraph newspaper (U.K.), 21-7-10. Accessed 2010-09-15
  • The Independent newspaper (U.K.), 29-9-08. Accessed 2010-09-15
  • The American Spectator magazine (U.S.), 4-1-10. Accessed 2010-09-15
  • Extended audio discussion on Death Comes to Pemberley for the Faber website. Recorded October 2011.
  • Video interview discussing Death Comes to Pemberley. Filmed October 2011.


Further reading

  • Gidez, Richard B. P. D. James. Twayne's English Authors Series. New York: Twayne, 1986.
  • Hubly, Erlene. "Adam Dalgliesh: Byronic Hero." Clues: A Journal of Detection 3: 40-46.
  • Knight, Stephen. “The Golden Age.” In The Cambridge Companion to Crime Fiction ed. by Martin Priestman, pp 77–94. (Cambridge University Press, 2003).
  • Kotker, Joan G. "PD James's Adam Dalgliesh Series." in In the Beginning: First Novels in Mystery Series (1995): 139+
  • Sharkey, Jo Ann. Theology in suspense: how the detective fiction of PD James provokes theological thought. (PhD Dissertation, University of St Andrews, 2011). online; with long bibliography
  • Siebenheller, Norma. P. D. James. (New York: Ungar, 1981).
  • Smyer, Richard L. “P.D. James: Crime and the Human Condition.” Clues 3 (Spring/Summer 1982): 49-61.
  • Wood, Ralph C. “A Case for P.D. James as a Christian Novelist.” Theology Today 59.4 (January 2003): 583-595.

External links

  • The British Council's Contemporary Writers. Accessed 2016-08-03
  • Faber and Faber (U.K.), publisher. Accessed 2010-09-15
  • Random House (U.S.), publisher. Accessed 2010-09-15
  • Penguin Books (U.K.), publisher. Accessed 2010-09-15
  • P. D. James on IMDb
  • "P.D. James (Baroness James of Holland Park OBE JP)", Fellows Remembered, The Royal Society of Literature.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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