In Memoriam: P.D. James

Over what is, in the U.S., a typically festive weekend, we were saddened to learn of the recent death of novelist and reigning “queen of crime” P.D. James. Having published her first novel in her early forties, she went on to write for more than half a century, creating unforgettable characters while examining thorny questions of life and society through the lens of fiction and against the backdrop of murder. This turn of mind came naturally to her. As reported by Marilyn Stasio of the New York Times:

“When I first heard that Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall,” she was fond of saying, “I immediately wondered: Did he fall — or was he pushed?”

Not just crime fans, but general fiction readers enjoyed her writing for its quality, and so—as is often heard from those reluctant to applaud well-written books if they're on the wrong shelves—her work was delared to have “transcended genre.” However, that was never this author's goal.

She told The Paris Review in 1995 that she “thought writing a detective story would be a wonderful apprenticeship for a ‘serious’ novelist, because a detective story is very easy to write badly but difficult to write well.”

The success of the first one persuaded her to stick with the form. “I came to believe,” she said, “that it is perfectly possible to remain within the constraints and conventions of the genre and be a serious writer, saying something true about men and women and their relationships and the society in which they live.”

She would go on to earn the title of Grandmaster from Mystery Writers of America and the Diamond Dagger Award from the U.K.'s Crime Writers Association, also a life membership in the House of Lords as Baroness James of Holland Park, granted for her extensive public service, not her literary fame. Do go read more about her fascinating life and wide-ranging work, and please raise with us a cup of excellent coffee and a chapbook of poetry for the creator of Scotland Yard's Commander Adam Dalgliesh.


  1. Terry Ambrose

    So sad to hear this news. A loss for the mystery community, but thank goodness her works will live on.

  2. M. K. Graff

    A wonderful writer whom I had the good fortune to know and to have in my life as a mentor. She’s the one who taught me “the real writing gets done in revision.” When I saw her last summer I’d just finished an essay on her and her long time assistant, Joyce McLennan, who worked with the Baroness for almost forty years and typed all of her manuscripts, for the book “The Who, The What and the When.” Sadly, she never got to see the finished copy, but she was delighted that Joyce would be the center of attention for a change. At that time she was frail but sharp mentally and in the throes of a new Dalgliesh mystery. One can only hope she finished enough of it to be brought out down the road~

  3. Carol Lawman

    I was devasted when I read this; she was an amazing lady and author.

  4. Carol Lawman

    *devastated….(I CAN spell!)

  5. crimeworm

    Such a great loss to the literary world – and a life lived to the full. Time to re-read some of her novels, I think. Between Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell, and herself, they gifted me a lifelong love of crime fiction, and I very much doubt I’m the only one! (Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and the Alfred Hitchcock Investigations also have a lot to answer for!)

  6. Dorothy H. Hayes

    A fine woman, excellent writer, and I’m looking forward to reading everything she wrote.

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