15 July, 2012

At the 2012 Sydney Writers’ Festival I heard Peter James, Michael Robotham and Malla Nunn discuss their approaches to crime fiction and how their experiences feed their stories. Peter talked about his real life stalker of many years, who would turn up to every book signing and whom Peter regarded as harmless until she sent him a photo of her shrine to Peter James. It was a whole room full of author memorabilia. Understandably a bit worried, Peter contacted his friends in the Sussex Police who suggested he improved his home security. He did.

Not Dead Yet is a story about obsessive fans and their imaginary relationships with singer turned movie star, Gaia Lafayette. James presents the reader with a number of stalkers and when Gaia’s life is threatened, we are unsure about which of the crazy fans is the real danger. An attempt on her life is made before she leaves her Bel Air home to fly to Brighton, in the UK, the location of the movie she is to star in. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace of Sussex CID is placed in charge of her protection. James skillfully builds up huge pressure on Grace: not only is he investigating the discovery of a headless and limbless body, testifying at a London trial, and protecting Gaia – who insists on moving freely about the city – but someone is threatening his pregnant girlfriend. James pulls the various plot strands together, including the revelation of the connection between the headless body and the person threatening the movie star. Best of all, there is a lovely twist at the end when Grace finally confronts Gaia’s would-be murderer.

James utilises his knowledge of the movie industry (he used to be a Hollywood producer) to create convincingly gross and egotistical characters like Larry Brooker. Interestingly, he does not portray Gaia as an obnoxious star. In fact, she is sympathetic. Whereas the petty, vain, drug-addicted male lead, Judd Halpern, is the kind of actor you could understand any producer wanting to slap! Once again, James’ knowledge and research gives his stories great authenticity: the recruiting of movie extras, how security is managed on set, how detectives would go about identifying a headless, limbless body, and so on.

Most of all, I like the way James does not tie up all the loose ends. There is one very big question that remains unanswered. Naturally, it leaves me wanting to read the next Roy Grace novel.

When the author and I had tea together at the Sydney Writers’ Festival he confessed he found it hard to believe that 11 million copies of his books have been sold worldwide. I’m not surprised. Peter James is a great story teller.

Not Dead Yet is published by Macmillan.