James, P. D.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

James, P. D.

P. D. James: (Phyllis Dorothy James White, Baroness James of Holland Park), 1920–, English mystery novelist, b. Oxford. From 1964 to 1979 she worked in the criminal department of the Department of Home Affairs. Her first mystery, Cover Her Face, was published in 1962. It introduced readers to her most famous character, Scotland Yard's poet-detective Adam Dalgliesh, who appears in most of her subsequent books. Her novels are in the tradition of English detective fiction but go beyond the stereotypical with their subtly realistic characterizations, complex motivations, and sophisticated plots. Her works include An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (1972), in which her female sleuth Cordelia Gray first appears; Death of an Expert Witness (1977); The Skull Beneath the Skin (1982); A Taste for Death (1986), which marks the debut of Dalgliesh's assistant Kate Miskin; Devices and Desires (1989); A Certain Justice (1997); Death in Holy Orders (2001); The Lighthouse (2005); and The Private Patient (2008). Many of her novels have been adapted for television. James also achieved critical and popular success with her psychologically insightful non–detective novel Innocent Blood (1980). The Children of Men (1992, film 2006), set in 2027, is the tale of a dystopic Britain in which women can no longer conceive children. She is also the author of the book Talking about Detective Fiction (2009), an inquiry into the origins and nature of the detective-story genre. In Death Comes to Pemberley (2011), James wrote a sequel to Austen's Pride and Prejudice that is also a murder mystery. James was created a life peer in 1991.

See her memoir Time to Be in Earnest (2000); studies by N. Siebenheller (1981) and R. B. Gidez (1986).

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