PETER MAY on the Rocks with A SILENT DEATH

Written by Mike Stotter


by The Times no 1 bestseller


Published by riverrun in hardback on 9th January 2020 at £20.00

The award winning no 1 bestselling Scottish crime writer, Peter May, author of the bestselling Lewis trilogy will be doing a tour of the UK in January for his new standalone novel ‘A Silent Death’ which is set between the sinister underworld of the Spanish Costa del Sol and the UK. It is being published as a lead title for Quercus on 9th January.  

Peter was an award-winning journalist at the age of just twenty-one, winning ‘Young Journalist of the Year’.  He left newspapers for television and screenwriting, creating three prime-time British drama series and accruing more than 1,000 television credits. His first novel in The Lewis Trilogy set in The Hebrides was The Blackhouse. It was a Richard & Judy Book Club pick. He is published in 32 languages and has sold several million copies worldwide as well as winning numerous awards. His novel I’ll Keep You Safe (2018) was no.1 in The Times book charts and his last novel The Man With No Face was no 2 in The Sunday Times bestseller charts. In recent years Peter has won the Best Crime Novel Award for The Blackhouse at Bouchercon in the US, Entry Island won the Theakston Crime Book of the Year and Specsavers ITV3 Crime Thriller Book Club Best Read Award.

The research behind A Silent Death (in Peter’s own words)


The book takes place in the south of Spain in an area I know well.  About eight years ago I bought an apartment overlooking the Mediterranean a little to the west of the Spanish resort town of Estepona.  Since then I have spent most of my winters there to escape the cold of my home.  In a little study looking out over a sparkling sunlit sea I have written my last six books.

It is a part of Spain with which I have become very familiar and have wanted to write about for some time.  But not the Spain of sun, sea and sand that characterises the British holidaymaker’s image of the Costa del Sol.  I wanted to get under the skin of this superficially beautiful part of the world, lifting stones to reveal the flip side of the seaside paradise depicted in travel agents’ brochures.  To write about the “Costa del Crime”, that monicker so beloved of the tabloid headline writers.  The reality that lurks just a few streets away from the seafront facades of bars and restaurants that look out on crowded beaches.  A much darker world of drug-running and people trafficking.  Of gangs and violence and the seeds of social unrest sown by a turbulent history of Moorish occupation and Catholic resistance.

Much of this other side of southern Spain was revealed to me during an interview with the chief of police in a hill town which is the administrative centre for a length of coastline that stretches east and west along the south coast, and north towards its mountainous interior.  He happily introduced me to his handgun and holster, before taking me on a detailed tour of the police station.  There were interview rooms and detectives’ offices, a gun room, and an evidence room where he laid out a huge array of lethal weapons seized during recent raids on local drugs gangs.  Parts of the town, it seemed, were virtually no-go areas for the police.  Derelict buildings - in fact, housing developments unfinished since the financial collapse of 2007/8 - had been taken over to become the headquarters of such gangs. 

But these gangs are not just operating at street level.  They are trafficking industrial quantities of drugs - heroin and cocaine.  The police have trouble arresting gang members for more than minor possession.  The big drugs hauls are sent out into the hills, to be stored in the barns and outhouses of peasant farmers who are coerced into cooperation.  While I was researching the book, a whole family of innocent farmers was slaughtered by gang members when they went to retrieve drugs from the wrong farm by mistake.

People trafficking, too, is a booming industry - less lucrative perhaps than drugs, but also less risky, with smaller sentences for those who are caught. Increasingly boats are arriving along the south coast of Spain from North Africa - a relatively short crossing.  There are many reports of sunbathing holidaymakers startled to see ragged lines of illegal immigrants piling off ramshackle boats that have washed up on the beaches.  Clutching their meagre possessions, they quickly melt away into the hills beyond, where they are met by the people traffickers who guide them to temporary accommodation in any one of the hundreds of abandoned developments that pepper the coastline.

In 2000, developers seemed to believe that there would be no end to the influx of wealthy Russians and Europeans flocking to the sun to buy apartments.  But with the collapse of financial institutions worldwide towards the end of the decade, both money and buyers dried up, and hundreds of developments were simply abandoned.  Some had only just been started, others were near completion.  All are now crumbling in the searing heat of the sun, and nature is gradually reclaiming what had been taken from it.  Cranes hired during the boom stand idly, like so many lost dinosaurs, looming over these scars on the landscape - the companies that owned them long since gone bust, just like the companies who hired them.  Such places can be scary and dangerous.

The influence of a new generation of monied Russians is plain to see all around.  Many of the billionaire yacht owners who dock their boats in the marina at the fashionable Puerto Banus are Russian.  There are Russian clubs and restaurants, and more and more apartments are being snapped up by Russian tourists.  Vladimir Putin himself is rumoured to own a large estate in the hills behind Marbella, flying in by helicopter from his yacht anchored out in the bay.


One of the other main characters in A Silent Death is deaf and blind.

I first developed a consciousness about the phenomenon of deaf-blindness after watching a TV ad appealing for money for a deaf-blind charity.  I wondered what it must feel like to be deaf AND blind.  It was unthinkable.  To lose both primary senses and become trapped within yourself, your own body becoming a prison confining you in a world of darkness and silence. I began research on the subject and discovered that it was more prevalent than one might expect.  There are nearly 400,000 sufferers in the UK alone, with that figure expected to rise to 600,000 in the next fifteen years.  One of the most common causes is a genetic disease known as Usher’s Syndrome in which the victim develops partial or total hearing loss that worsens over time.  Peter decided to explore this illness through the character of a middle-aged woman, Ana, delving into her experience through a first person narration.  Although not the principal character, she is central to the story.  We discover that she was afflicted in early childhood with hearing problems, then diagnosed with Ushers Syndrome in her teens, when she developed “night blindness”, which is often a precursor to vision loss caused by a disease known as retinitis pigmentosa, or RP.  We accompany her on her nightmare journey into complete hearing loss and total blindness, and through her limited senses learn first hand about the book’s main antagonist when he takes her hostage. 

I learned a lot about the Usher Syndrome through reading interviews about it, people describing their experiences from childhood to adulthood, and sometimes old age, which gave me an extraordinary insight into their world.  A world of bullying and neglect, by peers, and teachers, and society in general.  It made me determined to cast light on their suffering through Ana.

The only channel of communication for deaf-blind sufferers with the world around them has come with the development of technologies that provide braille screens that allow them to surf the internet and exchange messages with others.  But with so comparatively few sufferers worldwide, investment in finding medical solutions is small, and the hope of a future cure equally so.


The final part of the book takes place in Gibraltar, that giant rock which casts its ubiquitous shadow all along the southern Spanish coast.  It is always there, somehow, in the telling of the story, and seemed like the perfect setting for the denouement of the book.

Peter made two visits to The Rock.  The first was to gain a general impression of this outpost of a long-lost British Empire, where almost 96 percent voted to remain in Europe - only to be dragged out against their will.  A febrile sense of uncertainty suffused the atmosphere of the place when I was there, with the prospect of the reintroduction of a hard border with Spain ruining the lives and careers of many thousands of people living in the territory.  He was surprised to discover that while its residents steadfastly call themselves British, the ethnicity of the population is hugely diverse, with many deriving from a range of other European and African countries such as Italy, Portugal, Greece, Malta and Morocco.  Only 13 percent come from the UK, with little more than twice that number possessing British surnames.  And yet as you step across the border from Spain, almost the first thing you see is an old fashioned red British telephone box.

His second visit took him high up on the rock to research the detailed specifics of the story’s end. 

Photo © 2019 Ali Karim. Lads messing about at the launch party for MAN WITH NO FACE

Peter May

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