Final Jeopardy! category: CRIME WRITERS (25-1-1999)
FJ! Clue: 1 of the 2 female crime writers who were in the British House of Lords in 1998
The gist: There have actually been at least four woman writers in the House of Lords, one of the U.K. Parliament’s two houses, and in fact at least three can, in a sense, be considered “crime writers.” Certainly, the correct response to this clue are crime writers of the highest calibre and in the traditional sense: P.D. James and Ruth Rendell. We’ll get to them in a minute, but Vivien Stern has written several books on prison reform, making her arguably more of a “crime writer” than either of those two.
Anyway, P.D. (Phyllis Dorothy) James was born in 1920 to a father who didn’t believe in higher education for girls. Having left school at 16, she held a number of jobs before becoming involved in the arts as a stage manager. She married in 1941, and after World War II her unwell husband was institutionalized. She became a hospital administrator to support her family, and began writing on the side in the 1950s. Her first novel, Cover Her Face, introduced her best-known character, Inspector Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard, a brilliant gentleman detective and sensitive poet. Dalgliesh would star in 14 of her novels, the last, The Private Patient, released in 2008. She also created the wildly popular private detective Cordelia Gray, who has become an iconic powerful female protagonist in the normally male-dominated genre of crime fiction. She also wrote several other books, including The Children of Men, a dystopican science-fiction novel about a world without childbirth that was adapted into a 2006 film directed by Alfonso Cuarón and starring Clive Owen, and Death Comes to Pemberley, her last novel, a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, in which Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth have married and a murderer has struck on Darcy’s estate. James became a life peer of the House of Lords as Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991. She died in November, 2014.
Ruth Rendell was born in 1930 to Scandinavian immigrant parents, and began writing straight out of high school for a local newspaper. Rendell’s counterpart to James’ Dalgliesh is Inspector Wexford, a detective in Sussex, introduced in 1964’s From Doon with Death and appearing in 23 more, the latest, No Man’s Nightingale, having been released in 2013. Because he works in a rural part of the country Wexford is often underestimated by criminals, and his gruff exterior often conceals a loving and sensitive soul. Wexford was adapted for television in the long-running series The Ruth Rendell Mysteries. She has also written 14 mystery novels under the name Barbara Vine, often darker than her procedural-like Wexford stories. And even beyond those, she has too many more novels to go into here. She became a life peer as Baroness Rendell of Babergh in 1997, and introduced an early version of a bill that would become an Act banning female genital mutilation in the U.K.
The clue: This clue is really asking, “name one of the two most well-known British woman mystery novelists that are alive today (or when the clue was written).” I don’t think anyone except maybe a Briton would know that either were in the House of Lords, but it’s a good example of how it can be necessary to parse the actually useful information out of a clue that might not seem to have much. James and Rendell are really the only two options for this. Only one of the three contestants got it, though, giving James, who’s probably who I would have guessed as well.
In Jeopardy!: Besides this one, the Baroness Rendell is just five clues, surprisingly. Two of them mention Wexford, and one mentions Barbara Vine – the other two aren’t really about her literary career. As for the Baroness James, she’s in 12 other clues. Five mention Inspector Dalgliesh. Three give her full first and middle names and want her last. Cordelia Gray is in just one. Always keep both these women in mind if the clue is about a woman mystery writer, especially if she’s also British. But do remember that Agatha Christie is in over a hundred.