Crime and the Cultural Landscape: A Series on Detective Fiction

Phyllis Dorothy James White

Devices and Desires (1920 - )


  • Born in 1920 in Oxford England; her father, a tax officer.
  • In 1941, married a doctor, Ernest Connor Bantry White, whose experiences in World War II left him emotionally damaged (d. 1964); became the sole supporter of their two daughters; .
  • Attended Cambridge High School for Girls, 1931-37.


  • Worked as assistant stage manager at Festival Theatre, Cambridge, English, prior to World War II; worked as Red Cross nurse and at the Ministry of Food during the War.
  • During a thirty-year civil-service career, became principal administrative assistant for the North West Regional Hospital Board (1949-68) and later for the Department of Home Affairs' Police Department (1968-72) and Criminal Policy Department (1972-79).
  • Introduced Commander Adam Dalgliesh in her first novel, Cover Her Face, which she wrote in the eaely mornings, often on the commuter train.
  • Became a full-time writer in 1979.
  • Won numerous prizes for her ficion, incluidng Silver Dagger Awards for Shroud for a Nightingale and The Black Tower, an Edgar Award for Shroud for a Nightingale, and A Scroll Award for An Unsuitable Job for a Woman.
  • Received the Order of the British Empire in 1983; created life Peer of the United Kingdom in 1991 as Baroness James of Holland Park

The Crime Novels

Cover Her Face (1966)
A Mind to Murder (1963)
Unnatural Causes (1967)
Shroud for a Nightingale (1971)
An Unsuitable Job for A Woman (1972)
The Black Tower (1975)
Death of an Expert Witness (1977)
The Skull Beneath the Skin (1982)
Devices and Desires (1989)
The Children of Men (1992)
Original Sin (1995)
A Certain Justice (1997)
Time to Be in Earnest: A Fragment of an Autobiography (2000)

Biographical Sources, Critical Sources and Reviews

  • For critical and biographical information, see the following Gale publications:  Contemporary Authors, Volumes 21-24; Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, Volume 43; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 87: British Mystery and Thriller Writers Since 1940; and Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volumes 18 and 46 [contains portrait].   Gale Literary Database (Contemporary Authors Online) can be accessed online through a subscribing library at
  • Other print resources:
    Thirteen Mistresses of Murder, Elaine Budd, New York, 1986.
    P.D. James, Norma Siebenheller, Ungar, 1981.
    Murder Ink and Murderess Ink, ed. Dilys Wynn, Workman, 1977.
  • Some reviews:
    New York Times Book Review, January 25, 1990 ("James's Dalgliesh Tracks a Copycat Killer," by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt), and January 28, 1990 ("A Detective In Spite of Himself," by Judith Crist), available in the New York Times Books Archive
    Chicago Tribune, February 4, 1990
    Globe and Mail (Toronto), February 3, 1990
    Los Angeles Times Book Review, February 25, 1990
    New York Review of Books, April 20, 1990
    Tribune Books (Chicago), February 4, 1990
    Washington Post Book World, January 21, 1990
  • Internet sites:
    P.D. James -- --brief biography
    The Salon Interview -- P. D. James
    Interview: The Baroness of Quiet Murder
    A year in the life of mystery writer P.D. James - interview discussing Time to be Earnest
  • Of possible interest, from the New York Times online archive:

    "Phyllis Dorothy White Uncovers the Secret Face of P.D. James" by Nan Robertson, December 11, 1977 [an early feature story on the author]

    "In Mystery Fiction, Rooms Furnished One Clue at a Time," by P. D. James, August 25, 1983.  [James discusses writing mystery fiction]

    "The Queen of Crime: P. D. James," by Julian Symons, October 5, 1986, a lengthy review of A Taste For Death that includes much biographical and critical information.

    "No Gore Please, They're British,"  a three-way telphone interview between James, cime writer Lawrence Block, and Marilyn Stasio, who writes the Crime column for the New York Times Book Review,  October 9, 1998.

Retired Discussion Series

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