Peter James is the best-selling author of the Roy Grace series of crime novels including Dead Man’s Grip and Dead Like You, as well as several stand-alone books. Formerly a movie producer, James’s saga about the Brighton-based detective whose wife Sandy mysteriously went missing have sold over 11 million copies worldwide. The new Grace story, Not Dead Yet, is out on 7 June.
Not Dead Yet is about celebrity stalkers. Is this based on personal experience?
A woman would turn up everywhere I went. I’d do a talk in Edinburgh and she’d be there, I’d do a talk in Cardiff and she’d be there. And if she couldn’t come, she’d send me an email explaining why. You get blind to faces and about two-and-a-half years ago, I was doing a signing. Suddenly there was a woman standing in front of me and I said, ‘what name do you like?’ and she harrumphed. When I got home, I got this long email saying, ‘I can’t believe I’ve been your number one fan for 10 years and you didn’t recognise me.’ Then last year she showed up at a signing in Bristol and said, ‘I’ve decided to forgive you.’ I said thank you! It was certainly the trigger, because it does make you feel uncomfortable. This morning, it was like ‘have a good time at the book fair, maybe see you there.’
What other research did you do?
Someone suggested I meet this woman. She’s a really nice lady, 33-years-old, works in a law firm. For the last 18 years, she’s been completely obsessed about Madonna. She’s spent every penny she’s earned, I reckon around £300,000. She buys a front row seat to every day of the concert. A dress on eBay that Madonna wore for £15,000. Tickets, tour schedules…
There are a lot of clichés when it comes to British detective stories. How did you set yourself apart with Roy Grace?
When I was asked if I was interested in creating a character, I thought really hard about what detectives do. The classic fictional detective is broken marriage, drink problem. And the reality is in today’s world, broken marriage fine, because of the hours, but no police officer with a drink problem’s going to last 24 hours. So I wanted something different. Some years ago I went to a police open day. And I learned 230,000 people a year go missing.
Mostly they turn up within a few days. Some have committed suicide, some have re-invented themselves to get out of debt, some of them are under Fred West’s potting shed. But the common denominator amongst them is the people they leave behind have no closure. Homicide detectives solve puzzles, so I thought it would be really interesting when I created Roy Grace to come up with a puzzle of his own he couldn’t solve.
Is there anything else you get annoyed about with TV cop shows?
There’s a really classic cliché every time you switch the TV on – you see cops arguing. I have spent a day a week for many years in the presence of police and I have never seen them argue. It’s a military hierarchy. They do what they’re told. There’s no bickering. I tried to portray it accurately. As a result, I have a lot of police fans and most police officers don’t read crime because they get angry.
What else do you want to write about?
Having worked in the movie business and worked with some of these big egos, I’ve been wanting to write about it for some time. I worked on a cigarette commercial with Peter Sellers in 1974. He got paid the highest amount for one day’s work ever. We flew him to Cyprus. They’re in a warehouse and it’s gold cigarettes rather than bullion. The director said to him, ‘okay, you light the cigarette’ and he said, ‘I’ve decided I’m against smoking’. And this is a cigarette commercial?!
When I made Merchant of Venice, my co-producer was a guy called Cary Brokaw, nice guy. He made Closer and I said, ‘what was Julia Roberts like to work with?’ and he said, ‘you know Peter, 95% of the time good as gold, 5% of the time she makes you realise you are all only there because she said yes.’
What can we expect next for Roy
Becoming a father, so on a personal level, that’s the next thing that’s going to happen. Perhaps a darker twist in the whole Sandy saga. For the next one, I’m 55 pages in and I’m going back and relating the history of the gangs of New York to modern-day Brighton.
Have you, like J.K. Rowling, already written the last line of the whole series?
No. But in Not Dead Yet, you find out why [his wife] left. It doesn’t resolve it though. I got an amazing email two days ago from an 85-year-old guy who said, ‘I’m dying in a hospice. Please tell me [what happens], I’ll take it to the grave, I promise.’