Murder in the Royal Pavilion: Peter James’ new novel, Not Dead Yet

Last month, multi-million selling writer Peter James published his latest thriller Not Dead Yet, the eighth in the popular crime series featuring the charismatic and complex Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. All the Roy Grace novels are set in Brighton and its surroundings, but this book is particularly exciting for us as it is mostly set in the Royal Pavilion. It includes dramatic scenes that will have anyone who has visited the Royal Pavilion on the edge of their seats, and features several areas of the building that will only be familiar to those who work here.

As usual, James’s storyline is multi-layered and character-based, with some shocking twists that even avid crime fiction readers might not see coming. Without giving too much of the plot away, Gaia, the most famous pop star in the world, returns to her home town of Brighton to star as Maria Fitzherbert in a major Hollywood movie about her relationship with the Prince Regent. Gaia’s personal safety is put at risk by a stalker and Sussex Police have the unenviable task of protecting her during the filming.

The Pavilion features throughout the novel, beginning with a bullied schoolboy’s memory of blissful times when he used to hide in the Saloon Bottle, John Nash’s central onion-shaped dome:

‘It was love at first sight. The first time [he] saw Brighton’s Royal Pavilion, he was smitten […] he had never seen anything like it before in his life. It was a place that belonged to someone’s imagination, someone who tried to escape from the nastiness of the world into the labyrinth of beauty inside his head. […] Safe. No bullies up here. He could close his eyes and imagine himself living here, a king, worshipped and adored.’

In typical Peter James / Roy Grace style the story soon turns deliciously dangerous, gory and scary, and the Pavilion becomes a crime scene more than once. Reading this thriller is an absolute joy for anyone who has any connection with the building. The descriptions of the structure and layout of the building are deliberately inaccurate in parts, but Peter James has done his research well and even includes real-life members of staff in the story. Curator David Barry, a ‘tall, elegant man in his fifties, in a chalk-striped suit’ is a thinly disguised David Beevers, the Keeper of the Royal Pavilion; ‘resident historian’ Louise Hulme, an ‘academic looking woman, with long fair hair clipped back’, is our guide Louise Hume, whose character rightfully challenges the director of the Hollywood movie on issues of historical accuracy. Other members of staff are thanked in the acknowledgements and Peter James encourages his readers to support the Royal Pavilion and Museums Foundation.

One of the villains of the story plans to kill Gaia and a few other famous actors by making the Dragon Chandelier collapse onto them during the filming of a crucial scene in the Banqueting Room. He gains access to the roof structure and pours a metal-dissolving acid onto the chandelier’s fixings. In the most spine-tingling part of the story the chandelier does indeed fall down and leaves one person dead. Here is the scene in its cruel beauty:

‘The floor shook under the massive, splintering crash, as if a bomb had gone off in the room. There was a jangling, reverberating boom. Hundreds of the 15,000 glass drops shattered, sending a glittering, shimmering display of coloured light into the air, for an instant, like a firework. Lights in the grand room flickered. Goblets on the table crashed over, shattering, spilling their contents; plates, chandeliers and tureens slid down into the tangled mess of chains, gilded metal framework and glass.’

When an ashen faced David Beevers (sorry, David Barry) comes to the scene of carnage he exclaims, ‘This was King George’s worst nightmare.’

Many of the lesser known subterranean and hidden rooms and corridors of the Royal Pavilion feature in the thriller, including the tunnel that runs through the Pavilion gardens. The dramatic finale of the story is set in the intriguing small rooms in John Nash’s Saloon Bottle. These rooms do indeed exist but for health and safety reasons they are not open to the public. If Peter James readers would like to see them and the narrow spiral staircase that leads up there, you can view some photos of the rooms on Flickr, and enjoy this short clip from our You Tube channel showing these fascinating interiors.

Peter James’ Not Dead Yet is available from the Royal Pavilion shop, and other good bookshops.

Alexandra Loske,
Researcher and Guide at the Royal Pavilion