She is now a baroness, but to millions of readers worldwide, P.D. James is a spinner of crime novels rich with detail and memorable characters.
Her first Adam Dalgliesh book was published in 1962. Other Dalgliesh novels followed, along with several stand-alone titles, and another series featuring a woman detective, Cordelia Gray.
For James, 84, seeing PBS's "Death in Holy Orders" adapted for TV "was very exciting but you have to accept as a novelist that you won't see exactly your book," she said by phone from her home in London. "In a complex novel, some things have to be shortened."
James's novels have been adapted to TV in the past. "When my books were first televised, they were done in seven or so episodes," she said. "Nowadays they have to be done in an hour or two. It is more difficult to follow the story. I feel people get the most out of it if they have read the book, but I hope they can still enjoy 'Holy Orders.' "
James said "Death in Holy Orders" was one of her most enjoyable books to write. "I have never known a theological college but I did visit one. It was very different than St. Anselm's but I wanted to know what they were taught, how many services they would attend in a day, that sort of thing. And I learned a great deal, but otherwise [the fictional college] was totally from my imagination."
James is at work on the next Dalgliesh novel. "I write by hand early in the morning, and then when my secretary comes in, I dictate what I have written to her," she said. "I like to listen to my prose. Then I review it from a printout. I find it is a satisfactory way to write. I like to feel the words coming down my arm onto the page. I wouldn't ever want to write onto a computer."
But she does have a cyberconnection. "No machine made by man is user-friendly to me, but I do have e-mail," she said. "And I find it totally mysterious."
--- Kathy Blumenstock