PD James dies aged 94
27th Nov 2014
PD James, creator of much-loved detective Adam Dalgliesh and one of crime fiction’s toughest female leads Cordelia Gray, has passed away at the age of 94.
She was one of the most successful British crime writers, and a firm For Book’s Sake favourite, bringing crime fiction up to date with troubled characters, brutal violence, and chilling depictions of abuse and terrorism. As one FBS contributor attests, ‘She was the first author whose books gave me panic insomnia’.
Born in Oxford in 1920, PD James grew up in difficult circumstances. She saw her mother committed to an asylum when she was just 14, and had to abandon her education and writing ambitions at 16 in order to support her family financially.
At 21, she married medical student Connor White, moved to London and gave birth to two daughters during the Blitz. When White was posted overseas with the Royal Army Medical Corps, James worked as a health service administrator to support her fledgling family.
After her husband’s tragic post-war hospitalisation, and her daughters leaving home for boarding school, PD James turned her evenings over to writing in earnest.
She staunchly believed in the credibility of the crime genre, and published her first novel Cover Her Face in 1962. The book introduced the public to Chief Inspector Dalgliesh, whose suave and refined intellectual policing had everyone hooked.
In the 1970s, PD James gave us a working class woman as her protagonist, the tough-talking Cordelia Gray in An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, and achieved international recognition with 1980’s Innocent Blood.
Her dystopian novel Children of Men was turned into a movie in 2006, and more recently her sequel to Jane Austen‘s Pride and Predjudice, Death Comes to Pemberley gave us a satisfying and darker look at life beyond the happy-ever-after of the Bennett sisters’ weddings.
PD James died peacefully at home in Oxford on Thursday morning.