Baroness Phyllis Dorothy James was born on 3 August 1920 in Oxford. She was educated at the British School in Ludlow and Cambridge High School for Girls. She left school at 16 to work in a tax office. She later worked as an assistant stage manager in theatre.
After World War II she studied hospital administration and worked for a hospital board in London between 1949 and 1968. She went on to work as a civil servant at the Home Office, working in government service until she retired in 1979.
P D James began writing in the mid-1950s with her first investigative novel, Cover Her Face, published in 1962. She is known for her mystery novels set against the backdrop of the UK's criminal justice system and health service, most famously her series of detective novels starring policeman and poet Adam Dalgleish. Over her writing career she has also written many essays and short stories for periodicals and anthologies.
She is recipient of many prizes and honours, including the Grand Master Award from Mystery Writers of America in 1999 and the Diamond Dagger from British Crime Writers' Association in 1987. She was created Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991.
She was inducted into the International Crime Writing Hall of Fame in 2008.
She lives in London and Oxford.