Birthday: August 3, 1920
Died At Age: 94
Sun Sign: Leo
Also Known As: Phyllis Dorothy James, Baroness James of Holland Park
Born Country: England
Born in: Oxford, England
Famous as: Writer
Spouse/Ex-: Ernest Connor, Ernest Connor Bantry White (m. 1941)
father: Sidney James
mother: Dorothy May James
children: Clare, Jane
Died on: November 27, 2014
place of death: Oxford, England
education: Long Road Sixth Form College
awards: Officer of the Order of the British Empire
Riverton International Honour Prize
Nick Clarke Award
Cartier Diamond Dagger
Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts
P. D. James was an English crime writer best known for her 14 crime novels featuring police commander and poet Adam Dalgliesh. She also wrote two more crime novels featuring her female detective Cordelia Gray, the mystery novel 'Innocent Blood', the dystopian science fiction 'The Children of Men', and the Jane Austen fan fiction 'Death Comes to Pemberley'. Her non-fiction works include 'The Maul and the Pear Tree', 'Talking About Detective Fiction', and her own autobiography 'Time to Be in Earnest'. She had originally started writing 'Cover Her Face', a whodunit that turned into her debut novel, as a practice for a serious novel she had long intended to write. However, she soon realized that she could write about almost everything while remaining within the crime genre. While she became known as the new 'Queen of Crime' after Agatha Christie, she considered the classic model of "prettifying and romanticizing murder" "unrealistic", and according to some, was instrumental in improving the literary level of the modern detective novel. James, who worked for years in the criminal justice system and with the National Health Service, is known for her believable characters and her skillful depiction of interesting crime scenes.
Childhood & Early Life
Phyllis Dorothy James was born on August 3, 1920, in Oxford, England, United Kingdom, as the oldest of three children of Sidney James, an Inland Revenue Official, and his wife Dorothy. Her family briefly lived in Wales before settling in Cambridge when she was 11, following which she attended Cambridge High School for Girls.
Despite being a good student, she was forced to leave school at 16, both due to financial issues and because her father did not believe in higher education for girls. She began supporting the family working in a tax office for three years and later became an assistant stage manager for a theatre group.
She worked as a Red Cross nurse and for the Ministry of Food during the Second World War, and soon after moving to London, she met Ernest Connor Bantry White, a medical student. The two got married on August 8, 1941, and she gave birth to their two daughters, Claire and Jane, in 1942 and 1944, respectively.
Her husband was sent to India for military service with the Royal Army Medical Corps, and on his return in 1945, he suffered from schizophrenia and had to be put in a psychiatric institution. She left her daughters in the care of her parents and studied hospital administration, following which she served as administrative assistant with the North West Regional Hospital Board in London from 1949 to 1968.
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P. D. James, who had always aspired to be a writer but was delayed by "a streak of indolence", finally began writing in her mid-thirties, often in the early hours before going to work. She took three years to finish her first novel 'Cover Her Face', and sent the manuscript to her newly acquired agent Elaine Greene for it to be published under her maiden name.
That night, at a dinner at All Souls, Greene gave the manuscript to Charles Monteith, a Faber and Faber director, after learning that they were looking for a detective-fiction writer to replace recently-deceased Cyril Hare. The novel, featuring Adam Dalgliesh, a published poet and an investigator for the New Scotland Yard who was named after a teacher at her Cambridge school, was published in 1962.
As opposed to the "gentlemanly amateur" of Dorothy L. Sayers, James wanted to portray a "realistic cop", "a dedicated and skilled professional" who is also "a complex and sensitive human being". While she would later call it her least favorite novel, the book was well-received by critics and became popular immediately upon its release.
She followed up the success of her debut novel with more crime novels in the same series featuring Dalgliesh, like 'A Mind to Murder' (1963) and 'Unnatural Causes' (1967).
In 1971, she published the fourth installment of her detective series, 'Shroud for a Nightingale', and collaborated with historian Thomas A. Critchley on the non-fiction true-crime book 'The Maul and the Pear Tree'.
In her 1972 novel 'An Unsuitable Job for a Woman', she introduced her young female detective Cordelia Gray, who is struggling with her first assignment after inheriting a detective agency. She would feature in another novel a decade later, 'The Skull Beneath the Skin' (1982), in which the author will reveal a brief but intense romance between her two leads that happened 'offstage'.
She won the 'CWA Silver Dagger for Fiction' in 1976 for her next Adam Dalgliesh novel, 'The Black Tower', which was followed by the sixth installment, 'Death of an Expert Witness', in 1977. Two years later, at almost 60, she retired from her civil service job to fully focus on her writing career.
In 1980, she published the mystery novel 'Innocent Blood', which follows a young woman, who was adopted at birth, in her journey to find her biological parents that would unearth heinous crimes. In the following years, several of her mystery novels were adapted into television, starring Roy Marsden as Adam Dalgliesh, and aired on ITV in the UK and PBS in the US.
Her 1986 novel 'A Taste for Death' won the 'Silver Dagger for Fiction' and was nominated for a 'Booker Prize' in 1987. She talked about nuclear power in the detective novel 'Devices and Desires' (1989) and depicted a dystopian future plagued by mass infertility in the sci-fi novel 'The Children of Men' (1992).
She wrote six more Dalgliesh novels in the following years up until 'The Private Patient' in 2008 being her last, apart from her autobiography 'Time to Be in Earnest' (1999) and the non-fiction 'Talking About Detective Fiction' (2009). She also wrote the fan-fiction 'Death Comes to Pemberley' (2011), which continued her favorite author Jane Austen's romantic novel 'Pride and Prejudice' in the form of a murder mystery.
Personal Life & Legacy
Four years after her husband died in 1964, P. D. James was appointed a civil servant within the criminal section of the Home Office after qualifying via an open exam. She was elevated to a senior position in the Crime Department in 1972 and remained in government service until her retirement in 1979.
She was appointed 'Officer of the Order of the British Empire' in 1983 and was made a Conservative life peer as 'Baroness James of Holland Park' in February 1991. She received honorary doctorates and fellowships from several educational and literary organizations, and was inducted into the 'International Crime Writing Hall of Fame' at the inaugural 'ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards' in 2008.
While she owned homes in Oxford and Southwold, she primarily resided in her house on Holland Park Avenue. She died peacefully at her home in Oxford on November 27, 2014, at the age of 94, and was survived by her two daughters, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
P. D. James had publicly stated that Roy Marsden, who portrayed her famous sleuth Adam Dalgliesh on television for several years, was not "my idea of Dalgliesh". However, she was pleased with the 2006 film adaptation of her 1992 novel 'The Children of Men', even though it deviated from the book significantly.