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


James began writing in the mid-1950s. Her first novel, Cover Her Face, featuring the investigator and poet Adam Dalgliesh of New Scotland Yardmarker, was published in 1962.

Many of James's mystery novels take place against the backdrop of the UK's vast bureaucracies such as the criminal justice system and the health services, arenas in which James honed her skills for decades starting in the 1940s when she went to work in hospital administration to help support her ailing husband and two children. 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 Department of Home Affairs.

James worked in government service until her retirement in 1979, and her experiences within these bureaucracies add a complex stratum of insider's knowledge to her writing. Her 2001 work, Death in Holy Orders, displays a grasp of the inner workings of church hierarchy: she is an Anglican and a Lay Patron of the Prayer Book Society. Her later novels are often set in a community closed in some way, be this in a publishing house or barristers' chambers, a theological college, an island or a private clinic as with her latest work. Her prose is very clear and precise. Her new Adam Dalgliesh novel, The Private Patient, was published in August 2008 in the U.K. by Faber & Faber and in November 2008 in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf.

List of books

Adam Dalgliesh

  1. Cover Her Face (1962)
  2. A Mind to Murder (1963)
  3. Unnatural Causes (1967)
  4. Shroud for a Nightingale (1971)
  5. The Black Tower (1975)
  6. Death of an Expert Witness (1977)
  7. A Taste for Death (1986)
  8. Devices and Desires (1989)
  9. Original Sin (1994)
  10. A Certain Justice (1997)
  11. Death in Holy Orders (2001)
  12. The Murder Room (2003)
  13. The Lighthouse (2005)
  14. The Private Patient (2008)

Cordelia Gray

  1. An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (1972)
  2. The Skull Beneath the Skin (1982)


Omnibus editions
  • A Dalgliesh Trilogy comprises Shroud for a Nightingale, The Black Tower and Death of an Expert Witness.
  • A Second Dalgliesh Trilogy comprises A Taste for Death, A Mind to Murder and Devices and Desires.
  • Trilogy of Death comprises An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, Innocent Blood and The Skull Beneath the Skin.
  • An Adam Dalgliesh Omnibus comprises A Taste for Death, Devices and Desires and Original Sin (2008).

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 United Kingdom. These productions have been broadcast in other countries, including the USA on its PBS channel. These productions featured Roy Marsden as Adam Dalgliesh. The BBC has since adapted Death in Holy Orders (2003) and The Murder Room (2004) as one-off dramas starring Martin Shaw as Dalgliesh.

Her 1992 novel The Children of Men served as the inspiration for Children of Men, a feature film released in 2006, directed by Alfonso Cuarón and starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore and Michael Caine. Despite its substantial changes from the book, James was reportedly pleased with the adaptation and proud to be associated with the film.

DVD releases

The following are currently available on DVD:
  • Death In Holy Orders/The Murder Room
  • Children of Men
  • Cover Her Face
  • Unnatural Causes
  • Original Sin
  • The Black Tower
  • Death of an Expert Witness
  • A Taste for Death
  • Devices and Desires
  • A Mind to Murder
  • Shroud for a Nightingale
  • A Certain Justice


Some honours that James has received include:

In January 2007, James opened the University of Portsmouth's library extension, the Frewen library, which was delayed several times in late 2006. In 2008, she was inducted into the International Crime Writing Hall of Fame at the innaugural ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards.

Prizes and awards

  • 1971 Best Novel Award, Mystery Writers of America: Shroud for a Nightingale
  • 1971 Crime Writers' Association (CWA) Macallan Silver Dagger for Fiction: Shroud for a Nightingale
  • 1973 Best Novel Award, Mystery Writers of America: An Unsuitable Job for a Woman
  • 1975 CWA Macallan Silver Dagger for Fiction: The Black Tower
  • 1986 CWA Macallan Silver Dagger for Fiction: A Taste for Death
  • 1986 Mystery Writers of America Best Novel Award: A Taste for Death
  • 1987 CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger (lifetime achievement award)
  • 1992 Deo Gloria Award: The Children of Men
  • 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


  • Richard B Gidez. P. D. James. Twayne’s English Authors Series, New York: Twayne, 1986.
  • Delphine Kresge-Cingal. Perversion et perversité dans les romans à énigme de P. D. James. Lille: Presses du Septentrion, 2001. (PhD thesis)
  • Norma Siebenheller. P. D. James. New York: Ungar, 1981.


  1. UK Parliament - Alphabetical List of Members.
  2. The Guardian Paperback Writer Column - Why Detection? by P.D. James
  3. The Salon Interview - P.D. James - The Art of Murder
  4. "Why I am still an Anglican", Continuum, 2006, page 16
  5. Children of Men at IMDB
  6. British Council contemporary writers

External links

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