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James, P D

Entry updated 4 March 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1920-2014) civil servant and author whose detective novels, beginning with Cover Her Face (1962) and generally featuring Commander Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard, comprise a literate, conservative, elegiac but tough-minded defence of traditional English civility, a vision darkened by the fact that the austere, deeply intelligent Dalgliesh is agnostic, and the England he defends is self-damaging. The hints of a high-tech sabotage of a coastal nuclear plant in Devices and Desires (1989) does not quite reach Technothriller territory.

James's one sf novel, The Children of Men (1992), filmed as Children of Men (2006), carries that ultimately pessimistic cast of mind into a twenty-first-century Near-Future Britain crippled by universal human infertility – no children have been born since 1995 – and dominated by a dictatorial "Warden". Euthanasia at sixty is universally enforced. The ending – couched in guardedly Christian terms with the birth of a child in 2021 – offers some chance of redemption from what is very close to a classic Dystopia, though laced with melodrama, as when the Warden himself appears for a climactic confrontation rather than leaving such matters to his security forces. James endured some controversy for her insistence that the tale – whose resemblances to Brian W Aldiss's Greybeard (1964) had been noted – was not actually sf (see Mainstream Writers of SF). P D James was made OBE in 1983 and created Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991. [JC]

Phyllis Dorothy James

born Oxford, Oxfordshire: 3 August 1920

died Oxford, Oxfordshire: 27 November 2014

works (highly selected)


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