Phyllis Dorothy James Biography

Phyllis Dorothy James, Baroness James of Holland Park (born 3 August 1920), commonly known as P. D. James, is an English crime writer and a life peer in the House of Lords. She is most famous for a series of detective novels starring policeman and poet Adam Dalgliesh.

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.

James had to leave school at age sixteen to work, because her family did not have much money and her father did not believe in higher education for girls. James 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, and had two daughters, Claire and Jane.

When White returned from the Second World War, he suffered from mental illness and James was forced to provide for the whole family until her husband's death in 1964. She studied hospital administration and from 1949 to 1968 worked for a hospital board in London.

James began writing in the mid-1950s. 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 the UK's bureaucracies, such as the criminal justice system and the National Health Service, in which James 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. James worked in government service until her retirement in 1979. She is 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 are 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. The Adam Dalgliesh novel, The Private Patient, was published in August 2008 in the U.K. by Faber & Faber (US, (November 2008, Alfred A. Knopf) and Talking About Detective Fiction was published in 2009. Over her writing career James has also written 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 of BBC Director General 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.