P. D. James

For more than fifty years, P. D. James reigned as the undisputed Queen of Crime, a title she inherited from another British great lady of the mystery genre, Agatha Christie. Like Hercule Poirot’s creator, James wrote the type of traditional British detective tale that features a gentlemanly (or, occasionally ladylike) detective and eschews gore. But unlike Dame Agatha, Baroness James combined realistic procedural detail with a richness of setting and character, hatching multilayered mysteries that critics praised as transcending the confines of the genre. A perennial favorite, James produced bestselling work well into her nineties—the small-screen adaptation of her last novel, Death Comes to Pemberley (2011), aired in the US just a couple of months ago. Not bad for a writer who published her first book at the age of forty-two.

P. D. James was born Phyllis Dorothy James in 1920, in Oxford, the eldest of three children. She attended the Cambridge High School for Girls, where, as she told The Paris Review, she “read more Shakespeare and other major poets than many a university graduate today.” Devouring the classics and the Anglican Book of Common Prayer would need to provide...

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