Creator of much-loved detective Adam Dalgliesh was one of the most successful British authors of detective fiction
Her debut novel, Cover Her Face, was snapped up by the first publisher to set eyes on the manuscript, launching a career that advanced in parallel with that of her fictional police officer, Chief Inspector Dalgliesh. As he found himself promoted to superintendent and then to commander, so James accumulated a host of awards including the Crime Writers’ Association’s Diamond Dagger and the Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster award. Many of the Dalgliesh novels were subsequently filmed for television, with Roy Marsden taking the role of the investigator.
James also won a good number of public honours, eventually finding herself elevated to the House of Lords in 1991, where she sat with the Conservatives.
Born in 1920, James left school at 16 to follow her father into a career in the Inland Revenue. She married Connor White at 21 and moved to London, giving birth to two daughters as German bombers pounded the British capital. Her husband returned from the war with mental health problems, leaving James to provide for her young family by working in hospital administration. With her daughters at boarding school and her husband in hospital, evenings become devoted to writing.
It had always been her “intention” to become a writer, and she began writing about a detective partly as an apprenticeship for writing “serious” novels, as she explained to the Paris Review in 1994. James had always loved crime novels, was unwilling to explore the “traumatic experiences” of her own life in fiction and was well aware it would be easier to find a publisher for a detective story. But the genre also appealed to her taste for order.