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RIP P.D. James

 
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Mr. Write



Joined: 21 Dec 2008
Posts: 541
Location: USA

PostPosted: Sat Dec 06, 2014 6:23 pm    Post subject: RIP P.D. James Reply with quote

The mother of Adam Dalgliesh is no more! Very Sad

http://www.economist.com/news/obituary/21635438-phyllis-dorothy-pd-james-baroness-james-holland-park-crime-writer-died-november

Murder Most Intricate

Phyllis Dorothy (P.D.) James, Baroness James of Holland Park, crime writer, died on November 27th, aged 94

AS HE neared the house, down the quiet autumnal streets of Holland Park in west London, Commander Adam Dalgliesh felt a shiver of apprehension. It was the same slightly nervous curiosity he experienced when entering a country church, pushing at the heavy door to find darkness, sweet with incense, that filled nave and chancel but also held, at its heart, a mystery. That was, he knew, an analogy his creator P.D. James would relish.

The season was her favourite, when the light faded early and council leaf-carts lurked like tumbrels in the parks between the borders of brown, withered plants. Her Regency house stood white and elegant among the almost leafless trees. He rang the bell, noticing as he did so that every lower window was criss-crossed with a metal grille. This world-famous author of 18 murder mysteries evidently feared for her own security. The warmth of her welcome, too, was preceded by the sound of a key turning several times in the lock.

Greetings exchanged, she led him to the drawing room for tea and shortbread. The room was as elegant as the house, white woodwork contrasting with sage-green walls and comfortably upholstered chairs in a William Morris pattern. Framed photographs showed her with George and Barbara Bush and in her ermine-trimmed robes at the House of Lords, where since 1991 she was an energetic member. A walnut cabinet housed her collection of Staffordshire figures, and one bookcase held a complete set of “Notable British Trials”. He looked for the first editions of Jane Austen, her favourite author, whose work she had happily imitated in 2011 in “Death Comes to Pemberley”. But then he turned his detective’s attention to the woman herself.

She sat upright, small and spry, with no need for the stick that rested by her side. Her hands, folded in her lap, were strongly veined, almost tough. An Indian silk scarf was carefully draped around a scrawny neck. She wore a heavy pendant and a large ring, each of which appeared to be a Victorian memento mori. From beneath her silver hair she gazed at him with an expression that combined intelligence, good humour and, vitally, detachment. These were eyes that could look unflinchingly on the corrugated pipes in a slit throat, on the gooseflesh of rigor mortis and on the strangely colourful coils and pouches pulled from the human abdomen during a post mortem. She had worked, after all, for some years in the forensics department at the Home Office. Long before that, too, she had been fascinated by death, looking for drowned corpses on the way to school and wondering whether Humpty Dumpty really fell, or was pushed. She had often noticed, as Dalgliesh had, an expression of faint surprise on the faces of the dead.

The drawing room, he knew, was not her sanctum. That was the kitchen, where every morning after tea and bath she would spread out her notes and dictionaries and weave, in black biro, the intricacies of a violent crime. Rising early was a habit. Her arduous marriage, to a man who spent his last two decades shuttling between psychiatric hospitals and left her, at 44, a widow, had required her to keep working full-time in hospital administration, as a nurse and then in policing policy. Her books were a snatched joy until, in 1980, “Innocent Blood” made her a star.

Stiletto and razor

The business of writing, the obsessive, daily observation of people and things, the meticulous plotting, remained a private matter. She and Dalgliesh did not disturb each other’s privacy. Since 1962, when he had first swung out of a police car in “Cover her Face”, she had never described his sex life nor quoted his poetry, an odd sideline for a detective. She had let slip, however, that he was the man she would like to have been. The poetry was part of it, for she felt crime fiction was undervalued as literature. She wrote it differently, using the confined English settings she knew but introducing, as well as bloody disruption, exact science, note-perfect backgrounds and exquisitely worked motivation.

The room in which they now sat held clues enough to her activities. On a table behind her stood a bust of veiled Night, or Sleep, or Death, with closed eyes. On a small desk by the window lay a magnifying glass and a long stiletto, perhaps the very one she had used for the barrister’s murder in “A Certain Justice”. She had also been photographed admiring a switchblade razor, cousin perhaps to the Bellingham used for the near-decapitation of an MP in “A Taste for Death”. But then almost anything might be a weapon, including, not least, a pair of hands pressed forcefully over the cornu and cartilage of the thyroid. And almost anything—a button, a fibre, a crumb—could be the single piece of physical evidence that would solve the crime.

Their conversation passed so quickly, in a gale of shared experience and enjoyment, that Dalgliesh did not notice the darkness falling. He saw it only when his hostess, drawing on the phrases of the 1662 Prayer Book deeply stored in her head, mentioned the “perils and dangers of this night”, and briskly drew the damask curtains. The pages of his notebook were empty, save for a dusting of sugar from the shortbread. He had had no need to write anything, since they inhabited each other’s minds; and as much as she had created him he had also, perhaps, created her.

From the print edition: Obituary
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