The last time he visited Australia, British novelist Peter James proved himself a sponge for the local crime lingo, constantly jotting down jargon and ghoulish descriptions with glee. Of the many terms that impressed him, hearing an autopsy referred to as ‘hollowing a canoe’ was a particular standout for a bloke who not only writes about crime, but is a student of its many forms.
This education is ongoing and comprehensive as the Brighton-based best-seller still spends one day each week ensconced with Sussex Police to ensure he keeps pace with changes to crime investigation techniques, technology and terminology.
The good news is he never allows this almost forensic attention to detail to become too academic and thus detract from the excitement and creativity of his crime novels.
In fact, there’s not a dud among James’s long-running Dead series 11 million sales and counting and the latest, Not Dead Yet, is one of his best. It’s set in two worlds with which James is intimately familiar the bustling city of Brighton, where he lives, and the movie industry in which he has broad experience as a screenwriter and producer.
In Not Dead Yet, Los Angeles producer Larry Brooker is placing all his faith in a film project he hopes will at last provide the big pay-off for all his years of effort.
To be filmed in Brighton and the city burghers are understandably excited about the potential windfall from the production the movie explores the scandalous 18th century romance between King George IV and one Maria Fitzherbert.
James says one reason he was drawn to the story of George IV was the part the king played in the development of Brighton, including construction of its famous Royal Pavilion.
However, contrasting the posh trappings of the Regency era is modern Brighton’s darker soul, with its underbelly of drugs, dropouts, violence, fenced goods and other deceits.
While producer Brooker has his issues, his starrock singer turned actor Gaia Lafayette also has much at stake, most notably her credibility. About the only one less than enthused about Hollywood coming to town is DS Roy Grace, who is about to become a father and could do without the distraction.
Neither does it help that an obsessed stalker is tormenting Gaia and, after one attempt on her life in the United States, her loony assailant has crossed the ditch and she is in Brighton. James says the narrative potential of celebrity stalking struck him when he met a fan of Madonna who admitted she spends most of her money on pursuing her idol and transforming her home into a Madonna shrine.
In studying the nature of such obsession, James says he recognised how quickly it could lead to delusion and, in the extreme, murderous intent. For the reader, this is where the fiendish fun starts.
Not Dead Yet is another worthy addition to a crime series that continues to thrive on its creator’s enthusiasm and invention.