P D James, the doyen of British crime fiction, has threatened to resign from the Crime Writers' Association after sparking a furious row among fellow authors with comments connecting class and morality.
James - Baroness James of Holland Park - has warned the shadow of "political correctness" has been cast on the association following accusations she suggested in an interview that only middle class people were capable of moral choices.
It is claimed James has threatened to return her Diamond Dagger Award, given by the association for services to crime writing. In a recent letter to Red Herrings, the CWA's private monthly publication, she said she would only want to remain a member if the CWA continued to be "non-sectarian and non-political".
The row has raged in print for three months. Peter Walker, CWA chairman, yesterday dismissed it as a storm in a teacup but committee members are said to be terrified of a PR disaster if their most famous member leaves, "hurling the dagger behind her".
The row erupted in June when fellow crime writer, Chaz Brenchley, wrote to the magazine complaining about James's comments on a 2am BBC World Service interview. He claimed she suggested that the murderer in crime novels had to be middle class for moral choice to be properly explored.
Mr Brenchley said it was a shame that "a significant figure in our profession should lay herself open to accusations of ignorance and prejudice".
He said his working class neighbours in inner-city Newcastle upon Tyne, who faced daily hardship, were more likely to confront moral dilemmas that those found in the "economically and intellectually insulated" streets of Holland Park.
Members - for and against James - battled it out over the next two issues. This month the editor insisted the debate end.
In the previous issue, James had hit out at writer Julian Rathbone, who provided a transcript of her comment to Red Herrings. She wrote: "This must be the first time in the long history of the CWA that a member has gone to the trouble of obtaining a tape for the sole purpose of checking the political correctness of another member's views."
A spokeswoman said Ms James could not comment as she was leaving the country.
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