Saturday, November 29, 2014

Godspeed P. D. James

Mystery novelist Phyllis Dorothy James, Baroness James of Holland Park,  better known as P. D. James, died on 27 November 2014 at the age of 94.

P. D. James was born in Oxford on 3 August 1920. She attended the British School in Ludlow and Cambridge High School for Girls. She was unable to go to university because she could not afford to do so. She went to work in a tax office after leaving school. When she was 21  she married Earnest Connor Bantry White. Her husband served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during World War II. Unfortunately after the war he suffered from schizophrenia so severely that he spent much of his time in hospital. To support the family P. D. James studied hospital administration and began working for the National Health Service in 1948. She continued to work for the NHS until 1968. Afterwards she worked for the Home Office until 1979, most of that time spent in the Criminal Policy Department.

P. D. James's first novel, Cover Her Face, was published in 1962. It was the first in what would be a series of 14 novels featuring Detective Chief Inspector (and eventually Commander) Adam Dalgliesh of New Scotland Yard. The  Adam Dalgliesh novels would prove to be extremely popular. Starting in 1983 the first novels in the series would be adapted by by Anglia Television for ITV. These adaptations starred Roy Marsden as Dalgliesh. The BBC adapted the novels Death in Holy Orders and The Murder Room in 2003 and 2005 respectively. In the films Martin Shaw played Dalgliesh. The final Adam Dalgliesh novel, The Private Patient, was published in 2008.

She also wrote other books than those in the Adam Dalgliesh series. She wrote two novels featuring London private detective Cordelia Gray. The first, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, was published in 1972. The second, The Skull Beneath the Skin, was published in 1982.  Helen Baxendale played Cordelia Gray in the ITV series An Unsuitable Job for a Woman that aired on and off from 1997 to 2001.

P. D. James also wrote novels outside the mystery genre. Her 1992 novel Children of Men was dystopian science fiction set in a futuristic England where infertility has occurred on a massive scale. It was adapted as the film Children of Men (2006) by director Alfonso Cuarón. She also wrote a continuation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice that places Austen's characters in a murder mystery, Death Comes to Pemberley. Death Comes to Pemberley was adapted as a three part serial by BBC One in 2013.

P.D. James was one of the most influential mystery writers of her time, and also one of the greatest as well. P. D. James continued the tradition of the gentleman detective with Adam Dalgliesh and her mysteries were very much in the tradition of Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. At the same time, however, she brought the gentleman detective into the late 20th Century. Her novels not only featured complex characters, but often dealt with such modern problems as child abuse, drugs, and even radiation poisoning. Ultimately P.D. James was much more than a writer carrying on the tradition of such writers Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. Quite simply, she took the gentleman detective mystery where it had never gone before.

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