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Author of the Month

Name: Peter James

First Novel: Dead Letter Drop

Most Recent Book: Want You Dead

'...an expertly plotted police thriller which can only serve to enhance the author’s already stellar reputation.'

Synopsis:
When Red Westwood meets handsome, charming and rich Bryce Laurent through an online dating agency, there is an instant attraction. But as their love blossoms the truth about his past, and his dark side, begins to emerge. Everything he has told Red about himself turns out to be a tissue of lies, and her infatuation with him gradually turns to terror.

Within a year, and under police protection, she evicts him from her flat and her life. But Red's nightmare is only just beginning. For Bryce is obsessed with her, and he intends to destroy everything and everyone she has ever known and loved – and then her too.

Review:
I have been reading Peter James for many years – including the days prior to joining Crimesquad.com – and it is with great interest that I have watched as both author and lead character have evolved into one of the best pairings in contemporary fiction. James’ detailed research shines through on every page and unfamiliar readers would suspect he has a background in law enforcement. He doesn’t!

‘Want You Dead’ has so many different elements to it I could write this entire review as a list. There’s pathos, humour, tension, empathy and more suspense than you could shake a stick at. I was more nervous during Roy Grace’s long awaited wedding ceremony than I was during my own. I’ve read crime fiction for thirty-five years, but have never before found myself wanting to skip forward to check everything was okay.

James has a way of using the deftest of touches to encapsulate whichever scene he is writing and without giving away any spoilers, one particular sequence of events was deeply moving and may have repercussions throughout future novels.

Roy Grace is his usual upright self, juggling work and family commitments, while Red is a good foil for the evil Bryce Laurent. It was Laurent who drew my eye the most after Grace, as James has once again created a marvellously odious villain.

All in all, ‘Want You Dead’ is an expertly plotted police thriller which can only serve to enhance the author’s already stellar reputation.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating



Questionnaire

1) Bryce Laurent is multi-talented and uses his various skills to deadly effect. How did you manage to create such a believable character with so many attributes?
I started with a very interesting and very scary role model to work from – who was in part the inspiration for both Bryce Laurent and this entire novel. Al Amin Dhalla at the age of 42 met a Brighton doctor called Alison Hewett on a dating agency. It ultimately turned out he was deeply narcissistic, and had invented his entire background, as well as covering a three-year prison sentence for violence. When she ended the relationship, he stalked her and her parents, rented a flat overlooking hers and ultimately tried to kill her. Even when he was imprisoned he tried to hire a hit man to kill her and her parents. I was fortunate to be given a great amount of detail about this story from two senior detectives who were on this case, as well as the prison governor where he was held on remand. I also had some invaluable help and insight into this kind of dangerous obsessive from Trish Bernal the mother of Clare Bernal, a beautiful young lady who was shot dead in Harvey Nichols by her former boyfriend. When I had created Bryce Laurent I had both a forensic psychiatrist and a psychologist read the manuscript and they also helped me with certain tweaks to make him so believable and multi-faceted.
2) Red Westwood is a very strong character, yet some of her choices go against perceived wisdom. Why did you write her this way?
I am sure a lot of readers will wonder just this very question. But I talked to a large and varied number of sufferers of domestic abuse, and violence and sometimes life-threatening behaviour by former lovers/partners/ husbands – and what came across very clearly from so many, was an absolute determination not to let that ruin their lives. The overwhelming feeling, very often, is that if they change their lives because of their stalker, then he – or she – has won. Alison’ Hewett’s mother, Patricia, after Dhalla attempted to set fire to her house, was advised to enter a witness protection programme. She responded: ‘I’ve lived in this house for 27 years. Why should I cut myself off from my friends? I’m not a criminal.’
3) Empathy and pathos feature very strongly in this novel and you brought a tear to my eye with a certain chain of events which also made me mentally applaud a character. When you were writing these scenes were you aware of just how powerful they were? (Peter and I have discussed this thread via email, but I’m avoiding spoilers for those who haven’t read the novel.)
I guess as a writer you are so close to your work, it is hard to sit back and read it objectively. But I actually had tears in my eyes writing some of the scenes that you are referring to. I felt that this being the 10th book, it was an important milestone, and I did not want my readers to feel I was cruising, or complacent – nor did I want them becoming complacent about the status quo. Terrible things happen in real life, and I thought it would be good for something terrible to happen to one of the most popular characters in the books. I felt by doing that, although it made me sad and I know it will make many readers sad, it will keep my readers on their toes in the future, because they will know that in the future, in the Roy Grace novels, something unthinkable might just be about to happen…!
4) The entire series of the ‘Roy Grace’ novels have the thread of his missing wife running through them. Each new novel sees Sandy get closer and closer to returning into Grace’s life. How many more books will it be until you put them face to face?
Well of course if I tell you that, I would have to kill you! The whole dynamics of the missing Sandy story has been really interesting. I originally created her knowing how it would play out from the getgo, when I wrote ‘Dead Simple’. I planned to set up the mystery in book one and resolve it in book two, ‘Looking Good Dead’. But when ‘Dead Simple’ came out I was inundated with emails from readers speculating what had happened to Sandy. I realized I could have some fun teasing them! I get a huge amount of comments every day regarding Sandy. One recently, very sweet was from an elderly man who wrote saying, ‘Dear Mr James, I am 89 years old, terminally ill, and the doctors say I don’t have long to go – please let me know what happens with the Sandy saga and I promise to take the secret to the grave with me.’ I was incredibly touched and amused by this. I wrote back telling him he jolly well had to live on!
5) I enjoyed the way you had Grace making comparisons between Cleo’s reaction to events and the way he felt Sandy would have reacted. I think Cleo is probably better for him than Sandy, but Sandy was his first love and I believe he loved her more. Do you think he’d ever be able to choose between them, and which of the two should he choose?
What a brilliant and difficult question!!! For me there is no contest: When we first meet Roy Grace in the early novels, we see an idolized Sandy through his rose-tinted eyes: the perfect wife, a woman who could do no wrong. Slowly, bit by bit, book after book I have started to show that really she was not that perfect at all. She had a vile temper, she was unfaithful, and she resented how his work so often disrupted their social life, as it does with so many detectives. Cleo is a much warmer person, she understands the endless pulls of his work, and I can see her being faithful and them still being deeply happy in a decade’s time – that is of course provided Sandy doesn’t return to ruin it all…
6) It would be easy to pigeon-hole your books as police procedurals or thrillers, yet there is so much more to them. How would you like to see your books described?
That is a hard one. I’m not keen on the term ‘police procedural’ as I do agree with you that whilst that is one part of them, they are far more ‘thriller’ than ‘procedural’. Whilst there are some very fine UK crime writers, my biggest influence was Graham Greene who wrote only one crime novel, ‘Brighton Rock’, which had virtually no police in it at all. I’ve always been far more influenced by the US crime thriller genre, starting with Ed McBain, through Joseph Wambaugh, to ‘Silence Of The Lambs’, then to early James Patterson – those first books of his, such as ‘Along Came A Spider’, were brilliant, and ground-breaking in terms of pace and tension. I’m very happy when I’m described as a ‘thriller writer’ or a ‘crime thriller writer’.
7) Other than your own novels you have contributed to the forthcoming short story anthologies ‘Face Off’ and ‘Oxcrimes’. With two collections of your own, you obviously have a fondness for short stories. Which do you prefer to write, novels or short stories?
I really love to write both. The big excitement for me with short stories is the ability to explore themes or ideas or grim stories I’ve heard that are not big enough to make an exciting novel, but can make a riveting few pages of story. I have my first print collection, called ‘Twist of the Knife’, coming out on November 6, which incorporates the two electronic collections plus several brand new stories. And they include three that are just two sentences long!
8) Can you describe a typical writing day / week for you?
My whole day is back to front. It goes back to the time when I was writing novels, whilst working full time in film and television as a screen writer and producer, so I had to make my ‘Me time’ to write. My writing day starts at 6pm in the evening, when I mix a large vodka martini, with four olives, put on jazz or some other mellow music, light up a cigarette and get into a ‘zone’ for the next four hours. After that I relax in front of the TV with a dinner tray and watch either the news, something wonderfully trashy, or maybe a movie. In the morning, I’m up at 6.30 and take the dogs out. I either go for a short walk with them followed by a 30 min swim or a 3-5 mile run. After breakfast, I revise what I wrote the night before and plan the next pages, and in the afternoon I break, walk the dogs, go for a bike ride, or play tennis or catch up on emails. Once I have started a novel I maintain this regime writing a minimum of 1,000 words per day, 5 days a week. On Saturdays I write in the day time and try to take the evenings off either to go out with friends or see a movie. Sundays, unless I am bang up against a deadline, I don’t work on my book, but instead try to catch up on emails.
9) You are well known for doing in-depth research. What wouldn’t you do in the name of research?
Well, I guess I wouldn’t actually murder someone in the name of research! A couple of years ago I went hunting wild boar 200 klicks north of Moscow with the Chief of Police of Central Moscow. I used to shoot when I was younger but I don’t any more and don’t like to kill things, but I accepted this invitation because I figured I could learn so much from him. I was very happy when we ended up getting so drunk we never fired a shot at anything. I have in the past done some scary things – especially for me as I am terrified of heights and deeply claustrophobic. I’ve been locked for 30 mins in a coffin, lowered 100 feet underground down a vertical shaft, and submerged in a van in Shoreham Harbour. Having rolled my 1965 BMW classic race car just over a year ago, I am now able to describe perfectly what it feels like to roll a car at 90mph – and that, emphatically, is something I would not do again in the name of research!!! Last year, for research into a potential deposition site for a body, I did a full shift as a bin man in Brighton, starting at 6am (I may be the only crime writer who can claim he is a qualified operator loader of garbage bins!) I can honestly say that was one of the hardest jobs I’ve done – my back ached for days after – and as for the stench. For ‘Want You Dead’ I went into a 3-bedroom house that was on fire – it was on the training campus for West Sussex Fire Brigade. I was roped to two officers, and in full breathing and heat-retardant kid, but it was terrifying. To be in pitch darkness, in a totally unfamiliar environment, in 400 degrees heat. Hmmnn. Respect for those guys… I would not do that again. Really there are very few things I would baulk at doing. I feel as a writer, you are cheating your reader if you write about something you haven’t experienced. Although actually dying – that I would definitely try to avoid doing in the name of research….!!!
10) What are the five most bizarre things you’ve learned whilst researching your novels?
1. I spent a day in the Sussex Police helicopter recently. Once a week they do a ‘suicide watch’ run along the bottom of the cliffs at Beachy Head – the famous Sussex beauty spot, and tragically the UK’s No 1 suicide spot. The officer told me that a considerable percentage of the bodies they recover at the bottom have chalk under their fingernails – meaning they’ve changed their minds part way down the 450 drop. With true gallows humour this same officer said to me, ‘I’m thinking of starting a bungee jumping business at the top. I’m going to call it, ‘Try before you die’.

2. Its long been rumoured that human hair and fingernails continue to grow after death. This is not the case - it looks that way because the flesh starts to shrink, revealing more…

3. British Traffic Cops are known traditionally as “Black Rats” - they even have a black rat emblem! This comes from police cars originally being black, and black rats being one of the species that eat their young. Officers of the now called ‘Road Policing Unit’ have long prided themselves that they are totally partisan and will book a Chief Constable or any other officers just as they would a member of the general public.

4. Burnt human flesh tastes like pork. There are a lot of police officers – and mortuary staff, who don’t enjoy going to barbecues.

5. The expression ‘Fubar Bundy’. No one ever wants to be a Fubar Bundy, believe me! I learned this while out with an ambulance crew. It is what they whisper to each other when they reach the scene of a bad accident, where someone is still just alive, but clearly not going to survive. It stands for: ‘F**d up beyond all recovery, but unfortunately not dead yet’.