Author of the Month

Name: Peter James

First Novel:

Most Recent Book: Dead Man's Footsteps

'... Roy Grace’s most complex and most fascinating case to date'


Ronnie Wilson is making his way to the Twin Towers for a business meeting when the first jet hits. In the ensuing mayhem that envelopes New York as the second plane hits the South Tower, Ronnie begins to see a way out of his old life which is laden with massive debts. In shock, Ronnie escapes the nightmare and, in a seedy room, begins to fathom how to bring his fortunes around in a time of such horror and heartbreak.

In 2007, a skeleton has been found in a drain. Soon, the investigation team agree it is of a woman in her early thirties who would have vanished about ten years ago. Roy Grace begins to feel a chill down his spine. Is this the skeleton of Sandy, his long lost wife who disappeared nine years ago? Soon, through dental records they find out who the woman is. And then another body is found - in Australia. Both women have a connection to Ronnie Wilson. But he’s dead - isn’t he? As the team begin to dig beneath the surface, they find themselves in a quagmire of deception, blackmail, changing identities and murder.

Whilst all this is going on, there is a young woman being hunted through the streets of Brighton - and she has a lot more to do with Roy’s investigation than he could ever imagine.

In Dead Man’s Footsteps Peter James has brought us Roy Grace’s most complex and most fascinating case to date. Of the four, James’ latest is the most raw, most heart felt and personal novel in this brilliant series. Starting the book at the instant the first plane hit on 9/11 is a very brave way to start a novel. To begin with the most horrendous act of terrorism in recent times, you might worry that the author will be able to give the story integrity without making light of the horrific devastation of 9/11. Thankfully, James is such a consummate writer he has managed to respect the people and the events of that day and weave a believable tale amongst the devastation. The fact that documentaries have been made of people doing exactly the same as Ronnie Wilson lends credence to the story.

Dead Man’s Footsteps encompasses not only Brighton, but America and Australia. The investigation takes Grace to the USA and the wonderful Norman Potting and Nick Nicholl to Australia. The book is populated with memorable characters, especially Grace’s team and all are fully fleshed-out with their own back story and current drama’s. Even the despicable Cassian Pewe has a certain frisson about him and one hopes we will hear about him again in one form or another.

Dead Man’s Footsteps is an excellent novel that presents real people in real situations. The fact that the pace is maintained at a high level speed makes you fly through those short chapters like a whirlwind.

This is a brilliant book told by a master storyteller. You will love it - but don’t expect to do anything else until the last page has been turned!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) As it slowly evolves and increases in popularity, crime fiction seems to be organically sub-dividing into a number of widely diverse categories. Which genre (or sub-genre, even…) of crime novel would you say you write in?
I’ve always been wary of “genre” categories, ever since back in the late 1980s becoming categorized as a “horror” novelist after writing a supernatural chiller (Possession). It took me 12 years to shake off that classification from the booksellers and the press’s minds. Some of the most successful books of all time are never categorized into any genre. For instance, is Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock a crime novel? A thriller? Is Thomas Harrison’s Silence Of The Lambs a horror novel? A crime novel? What about Rosemary’s Baby? Horror? Psychological suspense? Crime? I’m delighted – and actually feel very privileged, to be called a “crime writer” or “crime novelist” - and whilst my books contain detailed police procedures, drawn from my research, they are much more “thrillers” than “police procedural”. I guess the best categorization that it would like is for my novels to be called “Peter James novels”!
2) What type of crime novels do you like to read? Do you prefer series or standalone?
What I look for in a crime novel is true originality of writing, and great characters. I read very widely, and my true test of a book I have enjoyed is that when I have put it down I either think, enviously, ‘”Gosh, I wish I had written that! - or I feel I have learned something new about the craft of writing. The stand-alone, Brighton Rock, is my favourite of all time, no doubt in part because it is set in the place where I grew up and have always had a home. But the first books that made me want to be a crime novelist were the Sherlock Holmes and I loved the comfort and familiarity of returning to characters I knew a little. The big question is always in a series character, how do you deal with the ageing process. Ian Rankin chose to age Rebus in real time. However with Roy Grace I had to take a different approach, because in the first books in the series, there is a developing love interest, with the lovely Cleo, who is in charge of the Brighton and Hove Mortuary, so although I write one book a year, I had to work out a way for the time sequence between each book to appear to be in real time.
3) Dead Man’s Footsteps is based around the events surrounding 9/11. Were you concerned that this was a sensitive area to be exploring?
I was very concerned about this aspect, and during the course of my research, in which I spent several days with two NYPD officers who were among the first police on the scene, I learned a lot of distressing facts that never made it into the press – and which I did mostly keep out of the book. However, the atrocity of 9/11 will, I believe, forever be a landmark date in history, and it touched, in different ways, almost everyone on the planet – giving warped joy to some people, and instilling a new kind of fear in many more. I like to root my books in the real world, and in Dead Man’s Footsteps I tried to show what it really was like to be caught up in that horror, physically and mentally – and to show how human nature responds – how tragedy can bring out both the good and the bad sides.
4) The theme involves a “missing” person from the Twin Towers. There is also a running theme involving Roy Grace’s wife, Sandy, who has been missing for nine years. Was this a conscious connection?
It was a conscious connection, but only in the sense that faking her own death is just one of the possibilities explaining Sandy’s disappearance, nine years ago. I’ve long been fascinated by the theme of missing people, ever since spending a presentation day put on for the police at the Missing Persons Helpline officers in London about eight years ago. There I learned that between 210,000 and 230,000 people go missing every year in the UK. The majority turn up again, usually quickly, but at any given point in time there are 11,500 permanently missing – ie, for more than two years. In the USA there are 55,000 permanent missing and the figures are the same pro-rata to population around the western world. Some of those people have been murdered, some kidnapped, or some have had accidents or committed suicide, some are probably still in Austrian cellars... but undoubtedly some have vanished and started new lives. And the problem, for most people who are left behind, is that they have no closure, and therefore find it really hard to move forward with their lives.
5) You seem to have a clear understanding of the operations of the New York, Sussex and Australian police. Did this involve in-depth research and how do they differ?
I spend about a day every ten days or so with the Sussex Police, either in a patrol car, or at a crime scene, or in an office, or out with a particular specialist unit, learning and absorbing their culture and their methodology. Through my connections with them, I was lucky enough to meet two NYPD cops, Pat Lanigan and Denis Bootle, who were among the first on the scene at the World Trade Centre. They had been in Brooklyn police station at 8.30 am on 9/11 and saw the first plane hit on their TV screens, at 8.46. They drove the one mile over the Brooklyn Bridge and arrived just as the second plane struck. As they got out of their car a burning engine bounced in front of them in Vesey Street. Then they got spattered by the first ‘jumper.’ Subsequently they spent days helping dig out the rubble, as well as being involved in the management of the Pier 92 makeshift bereavement centre, and then the massive task of trying to identify the victims. During my research, I spent several days with them, in which they introduced me to other rescue workers, and took me around everywere that was involved. One little known fact is that only about 1,500 of the 2,800 people who are feared to have died in the twin towers have ever been identified.

Similarly, in Melbourne I found two great detectives – the wife of one of whom is a big fan of mine – which helped! I find in general in the western world that police all operate and think in much the same way. The German police, in particular Munich, some of whom I know very well, are very similar in outlook and procedure to the British, American, French, Australian and Russian. Where you get big differences is in countries where there is wholesale police corruption – such as Romania (where I am currently researching for my next book) and in under-developed countries. However, in many countries, the public do not like the police. England, the USA, Germany and Australia are countries which enjoy exceptionally good relationships, in general with the public. The same cannot be said of Italy, or Romania, or Turkey, for instance. In my assessment, the more corrupt a police force, the worse its relationship with the public it is there to serve.
6) After writing both supernatural and psychological novels, what made you choose to write on a procedural theme?
Ironically, writing crime novels was what I wanted to do most of all, from the time I was twelve years old and read my first Sherlock Holmes story. In that story Watson asked Holmes how on earth he had deduced that a particular man was the villain. Holmes replied, “Elementary, my dear Watson, I knew we were looking for a man whose bathroom window was to the left of his washbasin.” “How did you deduce that?” Watson asked, wondrously. “Have you not noticed, my dear Watson, that he is always better shaven on the left hand side of his face?” Holmes replied. I was blown away by this and instantly wanted to create a detective such great powers of observation! But I though that the UK crime genre already had so many great writers, that no one would be interested in yet another, so I wrote many other novels first. It wasn’t until about 2001, when Macmillan approached my agent and asked if I would be interested to try to create a new fictional detective, that I realized that there might be room for me – and I leapt at it!
7) Many of the main characters seem to experience very complex personal lives and relationships. Will this theme continue in the series?
Yes, absolutely. What I find very interesting about the police is just how many marriage bust-ups there are in the force. For police officers it more than just a job, it is a true vocation and they will work, at times, 24/7. Wives, or husbands, not in the police but married to police officers, often get resentful of being abandoned at restaurant tables as they beloved chases off after a villain they have just spotted walking along the street outside, or having plans cancelled at the last minute, or being kept in the dark about their partner’s work. Some of the most successful marriages are between police officers, or police officers marrying, for instance, medics, both of which professions work antisocial hours. I also find the private off-duty lives of police officers fascinating. One former Chief Constable of Sussex likes to be a railway signalman on Sunday. A homicide detective I know in Melbourne plays the banjos at weddings, the real life police officer, Dave Gaylor, who was the career model for Roy Grace, is a football referee on Saturdays, and a woman CID Inspector in Sussex Police is a white witch at weekends!
8) The very last sentence of the book contains a very cryptic reference. Is this a hint of what’s to come in your next book...?
Part of the fun of writing crime novels is to set readers puzzles and to play games with them and tease them – for instance, the red herring as long been a staple of crime novels. So I have left it very much as something open to interpretation in different ways... but there will be a follow-on from this in my next book!
9) Without giving away the plot, which book - yours or by another author - included your favourite plot twist of all time?
My favourite plot twist in one of my own books is in Dead Simple - and the moment when Mark opens the lid of the coffin... In other books, I have to admire the way that Conan Doyle managed to bright back Sherlock Holmes after his apparent plunge to death. But my favourite, favourite twist of all time, in any book, and one I would love to have written myself, is in a novel now not well known, called Pincher Martin, by William Golding. It is a very short book, but the last line, which turns the whole book on its head, still leaves me gobsmacked, decades after I read it.
10) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
It has to be Brighton Rock. I can watch this film over and over without tiring of it. Richard Attenborough played Pinkie with mesmerizing menace. The novel has one of the darkest endings - and one of my favourite endings –-of all time, and the way it was handled in the film utterly true to the book in spirit, with one brilliant change, makes it a true masterpiece. After this I would put Silence Of The Lambs a hot contender, for its fidelity to the story and its sheer power, in second place.
11) Would you describe yourself as a crime fiction fan in general and, if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
Yes, I am, and always have been a huge fan of the genre. I greatly admire Conan Doyle, who was really not just the pioneer of the crime novel but one of the first writers to introduce forensics. I loved John D Macdonald’s Travis McGee books – he created such a wonderful character, this man who lived on a houseboat on the Florida Keys, drove a Rolls Royce pick-up truck - and specialized in getting things back for people. The modern crime writers I like are too numerous to list. Certainly Michael Connelly, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Mark Billingham, Stuart McBride and Craig Russell are among authors who create strong, believable characters and compelling reads. I like also the Icelandic writer, Arnaldur Indridason
12) What is your favourite crime read of all time?
That is a tough question! I think my favourite non-fiction, non-crime book must be the Penguin Dictionary of Quotations, which I discovered in my teens and gave me both a love of quotations, but more importantly, an insight into the wisdom and wit of literally thousands of people over thousands of years. But crime read – well non-fiction, Vernon G Geberth’s Practical Homicide - Geberth is a former NYPD detective and this massive illustrated doorstop of a book is a massive research resource – just don’t look at some of the pictures before you eat! And in terms of fiction, absolutely Brighton Rock.