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P. D. JAMES: An Appreciation

In the midst of getting ready for Thanksgiving dinner yesterday, I heard the news of the death of P. D. James.  Although at age 94 her passing was certainly not unexpected, it still saddens me to think that no more of her wonderful mysteries will be forthcoming.

Amid all the personal remembrances that have been written just since her death yesterday and all the other yet to come, I’d like to add my own.  I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. James more than thirty years ago at Kate’s Mystery Books in Cambridge, which I believe was one of the first stores of its type, specializing in all forms of mystery and suspense novels. 

Kate Mattes hosted many authors over the years, both novices to the publishing world and famous ones, including Robert B. Parker, Sara Paretsky, and of course Ms. James.  To me Ms. James was the epitome of the English writer.  I remember her as petite, with brown hair and wearing what the British call a “twin set,” also brown.  I can’t remember if she wore pearls, but I’ve added them to the picture of her in my mind.  Of course I still have the book she inscribed to me, Innocent Blood.  “To Marilyn, With every good wish from the author, P. D. James.”

Like many other readers, I was an immediate fan after reading her first novel, Cover Her FaceBut I must confess that her two novels featuring private investigator Cordelia Gray were my favorites.  From interviews the authors gave, she stopped writing about the P.I. because she wanted a more authentic protagonist, and at that time there were no women detectives in Scotland Yard.  Thus Adam Dalgliesh became her best-known creation.  However, I still retain a special warm spot for the inexperienced but intrepid Cordelia Gray.

Baroness James of Holland Park, as she was known after receiving a life peerage in 1991, did not have an easy life.  Her husband, a physician, returned from World War II with mental problems, leaving Ms. James to support their young family as well as dealing with his frequent stays in psychiatric hospitals.   She worked for many years for the British government and finally achieved great fame years after her husband’s early death.  Her novels were all carefully plotted, totally believable, and featured both settings and characters that held the reader from the first page to the last.  They were a joy to read and re-read.

If there was one more thing to be thankful for yesterday, it was having had the works of Phyllis Dorothy James to read over these past decades.

You can read more about P. D. James at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.





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