Carla McKay

Jul 22, 2012

We speak with the author Peter James to get his recommendations for the best books to take to a desert island.

Peter James is a crime thriller writer who has enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame in the past few years during which he has sold more than 11 million copies of his books internationally and has been translated into 35 languages. His trademark current crime series is set in Brighton, England, where he was brought up and lives, and features the detective Roy Grace. Each Roy Grace novel, published annually in the summer, shoots up the best-seller list and perches there for many weeks. The novels are loved for their page-turning, hair-raising plots and verisimilitude.

James adores, and is immersed in, the police world. He spends a lot of time with police doing research, in particular his local Sussex police, and he even has his own police car, which he donated to the force in 2008 and whose livery (alongside the police markings) changes each year to match the jacket of his latest Roy Grace novel.

His other passions include collecting classic cars (his first was a 1929 Rolls-Royce hearse but he is now totally in love with a Bentley Continental GT speed); motor racing (he competes in championship events); skiing; and running.

He is also interested in and a great believer in the paranormal. He lived for 10 years in a haunted Georgian manor house in Sussex and is disappointed that his present Victorian rectory is so far ghost-free.

Before his recent crime novels he wrote supernatural thrillers and Michael Crichton-style science-based thrillers. Last year he wrote a scary best-selling stand-alone novel about genetics called Perfect People.

He has travelled several times to the UAE. He attended the first Dubai literary festival, which he says was huge fun.

Last year he went to the Sharjah literary festival and next year will again attend the Dubai festival.

James tells Carla McKay about his choices for the best books to take to a desert island.

Peter James’s new Roy Grace novel, Not Dead Yet, became a best-seller as soon as it was published last month

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

Graham Greene is my favourite novelist, and this is my favourite book of his. Set in my hometown, it is a wonderfully gripping, dark book about the criminal underbelly of Brighton, about religious faith and about human nature. And it has one of the darkest and most poignant endings to a novel I have ever read. This is the novel that made me want to be a writer.

Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard

They say Leonard is “the man”, and you just have to read him to understand why. Characters, characters, characters. They are just so vivid, so engaging that you don’t even need a plot. You could have a group of his characters reading the phone directory for 300 pages, and you’d still be gripped.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

I started reading Sherlock Holmes as a teenager and instantly wanted to be a writer of detective novels. Also I share with Doyle his lifelong interest in the paranormal. This book exquisitely combines the detective story with the supernatural – or so you think – without ever resorting to any deus ex machina stunts pulled on the reader. It has a brilliant twist at the end.

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

I first read this book when I was 23 and it changed both my perception of the world and my perception of the boundaries of the novelist. Paradoxically, this insane and insanely funny novel is the default book I return to whenever I feel the world – or my world – has gone mad.

Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

In my view, one of the greatest riches a novel can offer is when it is examining and questioning the world and the society in which we live. I cannot think of any modern novel that has done it better than this biting, intensely human and gripping satire on life in New York during the 1980s boom time. It’s all there: ambition, class, greed, racism, politics, infidelity – and brilliant writing. This is a book of which I can never tire.

Practical Homicide Investigation by Vernon J Geberth

This is a state-of-the-art instruction and consultation manual in homicide and forensic case investigations by a former New York homicide detective known colloquially as “Mr Murder”. It is a formidable research and resource tool but you definitely don’t want to read this at either bedtime or meal times on your desert island or elsewhere. It’s full of graphic illustrations of human cadavers in various states of decomposition. A fascinating tome.