The crime and thriller literary scene in London is rather civilised, with launch parties, bookstore signings and the famous literary lunches where reviewers get to meet up with writers, editors, agents and publishers and talk books and the writing life. I had the delight to meet the award winning author Peter James to celebrate the paperback launch of Looking Good Dead (Pan UK). The venue was one of London’s famed restaurants The Wolseley next door to The Ritz in Piccadilly.
Joining me was the editor of Crimetime Barry Forshaw, as well as writer and literary critic Mark Timlin and reviewer forKaren Meek’s Eurocrime website as well as The Daily Mail, Carla McKay. Prior to lunch, Barry and I had a few minutes to discuss an interesting book that he is editing entitled British Crime Writing: An Encyclopaedia, featuring contributions from myself and many other writers. I will reveal more about this volume to Shots when I get a release date from the publishers.
Once we were seated, Peter ordered the wine, while I stuck to an icy beer and raised our glasses in a toast. One of our first topic of conversation was on the return of Thomas Harris with Hannibal Rising. Mark Timlin and I were both enthusiastic about the fourth outing for Dr Lecter, whilst Barry and Carla were lukewarm. We all agreed that Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs were the pinnacle in Harris’ work, and it was interesting that James reference’s Silence of the Lambs in his latest detective thriller.
I knew Peter James’ from his earlier work in the horror genre where he is often described as the British Stephen King. I used to be heavily involved in the horror genre, and enjoyed Peter’s earlier novels such as Host, Possession, andProphecy. But Peter is not a writer to be constrained by genre boundaries, as well as horror, we now have the second in his police procedural series Looking Good Dead, which incidentally I noticed was at No 2 in the UK Paperback charts and will be released in the US in February 2007 from Carroll & Graf. It features Superintendent Roy Grace, an interesting character who first appeared last year in Dead Simple. Over lunch I asked Peter a little about Grace and his hometown, Brighton.
"Roy Grace is a new and very different detective, based in Brighton, in England; a city that is the favoured place to live in the UK for first division criminals (I was told this by a former Chief Constable). Grace's own experience and personal loss his wife, Sandy, has been missing for nine years, leaves him open-minded to all methods of police work in order to find the truth about the cases he investigates and to try to find out what happened to his wife. He uses everything available, from high tech to old fashioned police slog, from forensics and pathology analysis, and because of his own interest in the paranormal, is open to input from mediums and clairvoyants. I'm deeply fascinated by the many facets of police work, and particularly how it is changing with the times, and my research for the Grace novels takes me through almost all of it."
Over lunch we talked about the British town of Ipswich which is currently in the grip of fear with several prostitutes found dead, and the police fearing that a serial killer is at work. Peter was called by several members of the press if he had any comment – naturally he declined, but did recently write this article about modern policing in Britain. Read the article.
I quizzed Peter about his varied life and discovered that he was born in Brighton; he is the son of Cornelia James, glove manufacturer to the Queen. Educated at Charterhouse and then at film school, he began his career in North America working as a screen writer and film producer (his projects included the award-winning Dead of the Night) before returning to England.
Until recently he was managing director of one of the largest UK film companies, Movision Entertainment, and has recently produced numerous films, the most recent of which being The Merchant of Venice starring Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons and Joseph Fiennes, Head in the Clouds starring Penelope Cruz and Oscar-winner Charlize Theron and The Bridge of San Luis Rey starring Robert DeNiro, Kathy Bates, Harvey Keitel and Gabriel Byrne. He also co-created the hit Channel Four series Bedsitcom, which was nominated for a Rose D’Or.
Peter has written twelve international bestsellers which have been translated into twenty-seven languages. Dead Simple has sold over 70,000 copies hardback and 169,000 copies in paperback and reached no 9 in the Sunday Times paperback bestsellers list. Looking Good Dead sold over 35,000 copies in its first month of publication and went straight into the Sunday Times bestseller list at No 8. TV rights in Dead Simple and Looking Good Dead have already been sold to Company Pictures for a major 2-part dramatisation series and is hard at work on the adaptations.
All Peter James’s novels reflect his deep interest in crime, medicine, science and the paranormal. They are also meticulously researched, which for Dead Simple and Looking Good Dead included spending several days at the Brighton and Hove mortuary and many days out on patrol and as a fly on the wall with many divisions of Sussex Police. Peter has also studied the criminal mind by visiting Broadmoor and works closely with the Brighton police murder squad to get an authentic insight into how investigations are carried out.
An interesting aspect of Peter’s work is his attitude to technology, even if it meant that during dinner, he was watching his Blackberry blip every few minutes. He wrote this interesting article on the Internet and also the future of the novel. James seems to have boundless energy which can be witnessed in his blog.
I found Peter James a delightful lunch companion, very modest and extremely erudite with a great insight into the genre, and he knows his wine. So if you’ve not read Peter’s Superintendent Roy Grace police procedurals, you’re in for a treat.
Visit Peter’s website: www.peterjames.com
A version of this article originally appeared in THE RAP SHEET www.therapsheet.blogspot.com