Peter James talks about his mate Roy Grace, Super Recognisers and playing with time

Peter James
Picture: David Ferguson

I want to start by asking you what is it like to live with Roy Grace for 17 years plus? Is he more than words on a page to you?

Well actually there are two Roy Graces. Well, there are now three of course, with John Simm. There’s the former Detective Chief Superintendent David Gaylor, who I modelled Grace on, not physically but career wise. We’ve worked together really closely on every book. We have a kind of ritual, we always meet at the same table in a pub outside Henfield, when I’m planning the books, and I kind of run stuff through him, and then I have my fictitious Roy Grace who I consider like a mate. You know, every time I start a new book I say “Hi Roy, how’re you doing? Hi Norman, who have you pissed off this month?” He’s always been like a real character, almost like a mate to me, and now we’ve got John Simm who looks so much like the Roy Grace of my imagination when I created him, so when John’s name was put forward by ITV, I thought “Perfect!”

I’ve actually just started the next Roy Grace, the 19th. I finished the 18th, which won’t be out till next September because we’re moving publication of the hard back to the autumn. I’ve started the 19th, and I’ve got John Simm so much in my head now (as I also have Richie Campbell as Glenn Branson, he is so like the fictitious Glenn that I modelled on a real cop I met back in the late 80s, Glenn Douglas) – so I’ve got those two real life people. I find it quite helpful because I’ve got to know them, John and I have become mates, Richie too, and I know their mannerisms. It’s really interesting having real life human faces to think about when I’m writing.

Do you feel under pressure with a long running series to keep your readers interested?

It’s a real problem, but in a way it’s a good problem, I guess. When I was a kid I was an avid reader, and a lot of the authors that I loved wrote loads of books, like Alistair MacLean. It seemed to me that the more successful they got the fatter the books got, and the less exciting, almost as if either they got lazy, or their editors got too nervous to say anything, or they got too arrogant to listen to their editors. So I decided right back then that if I was ever lucky enough to have any kind of success, the one thing I would try to do would be to raise the bar with each book. So every time I deliver a book and someone says “Oh yeah, that was my favourite of yours” I think “S***! How am I gonna write the next one?!”

How do you raise the bar? 

First I try always to take a subject that fascinates me, that I want to learn about. I think good writing should examine the issues of the world we’re in, or entertain, but be fresh. The one I’ve just finished is about the world of art forgery. One of the world’s top art forgers, David Henty, lives in Saltdean. He’s been just brilliant. He’s in the book very thinly veiled as himself, totally at his own volition. It’s been fascinating to learn about that world.

The book’s about a couple who go to a car boot sale on a Sunday and buy a picture for £20 because they like the frame. It’s a horrible picture, it’s a bad portrait of an old lady. They get it home but they leave it in the sunlight, and some of the surface paint melts and they realise there’s something underneath. They take it to an Antiques Roadshow and the expert there says, “Well, this looks to me like a long lost Fragonard from 1770. If it’s genuine, it’s going to be worth millions.”

I’ve delved into the world of art forgery and you know, Dave Henty told me, and it’s in the book, exactly how he could fake a Fragonard so that even the top Fragonard expert couldn’t tell the difference, or pretty much any other Old Master. There are all kinds of clever tricks you know, things like buying an old canvas from the period, an old church canvas from France – you can pick them up for three or four thousand quid – old icons or a Madonna and Child. Start with that, so you’ve got the original canvas if anybody checks it. So I try really hard in the books to take something that I’m interested in and learning about, and try to be authentic. I had a lot of fun with that.

Now I’m writing about the world of puppy smuggling and illegal puppy farming, which during lockdown became a bigger business for a lot of the gangs than drugs. If you ordered a blue French bulldog “That’s £25,000 to you, lady”!

David Henty is in the book Death Comes Knocking that you co-wrote with Graham Bartlett of the Sussex Police, about policing Brighton, isn’t he?

Yes, he is, and you know what I loved about that? It was that Dave Henty had started life as a forger, he was quite good at drawing, but had a fatal flaw, as in the book, which was he couldn’t spell. Anyway, he bought a house in Wykeham Terrace just up from the Clock Tower and he’d got this massive operation with five of them there, printing and binding. They were raking it in, they had orders for 3000 forged passports at £1000 a pop for Hong Kong people trying to get out, he was minting passports, but Britannic Majesty was spelt wrong! And then his front door’s kicked in and it’s Graham Bartlett and four other coppers, and he’s inside for five years.

Graham contacted him when we were writing the book. He said to Graham “Come and have lunch and bring Peter” so we went to the house at Saltdean. The last time he’d seen Graham was when he kicked his front door in and completely f***** up his life, but he said “Great to see you again, come on in!” The other guy forging the passports with Henty was Cliff Wakefield, so Graham asked about him and Henty said, “Well, he’s in Belmarsh now, he’s gonna call us at 2 o’clock to say hi.” I mean, that’s real old-school cops and villains!

Do you think it’s also the case that the unfolding Roy Grace story moves the series forward, because his personal story is so compelling that readers come back each time to find out what’s going to happen to him next?

Yes, it’s like I accidentally created an ongoing soap opera! But I like that. Without wanting to give away any spoilers I think occasionally, to keep the series fresh, what I have to do is sometimes kill a major character, because if readers believe that nobody is ever going to come to any harm, they’re not ever going to feel scared for somebody when they’re in peril, they’re going to think “Oh, it’ll be all right.”

It is something I’ve learned over the years, that there’s a kind of boundary that you can’t cross. I had a cat scalded in one of my early novels way back before I wrote Grace and it really upset cat lovers. I mean, you could pour boiling water over a baby and nobody would care, but harm an animal and everyone is up in arms. There’s a fine line between showing brutality because you’re trying to portray just how horrible a villain is, and doing something almost for just the pleasure of writing something gross. I’ve tried over the years to really tone that down. I don’t want people having a horrific time reading one of the books, but I want them to understand that there are horrible people out in the world who do horrible things.

I do think that part of the joy of reading crime fiction is that it gives us a vicarious sense of danger and thrill. But in this dark and uncertain world, it gives us the knowledge that at the end Roy Grace, or whoever the hero or heroine is, will have locked up the bad guys, at least most of them, and restored some kind of order so that as you close the book, having finished it, you’re thinking “Yeah, actually the world’s not too bad”.

Do you think that reading crime fiction is a safe way to explore fears and dangers, knowing you’re going to be safe at the end because it’s not you who’s at risk?

That’s a factor, definitely, I do think that’s the case. I have a terror of heights, so for example when I’m writing I might have Roy hanging over Beachy Head – I let him do that for me, that way I get the buzz without the terror! I think we read crime fiction for a number of reasons. I think what you’ve just identified is very much one of them. I think another is that at a different level we love being thrilled – the first thing somebody says to a new baby is “boo!” That is something deep rooted in us, we do enjoy it.

But I think at a much deeper level good crime fiction also taps into the way we are genetically programmed to survive. If you’re driving and you see a bad car accident on the other side of the motorway, everybody slows down. I don’t think people slow down because they’re ghouls, I think people slow down to think “What happened there? What can I learn from that?” almost subconsciously, to make sure they never get in that position. And I think it’s exactly the same with a crime novel, we read about somebody getting murdered, and subconsciously you’re thinking, “What can I learn from that? How can I make sure I never get in that position, or my loved ones never get in that position?” So I think that is going on too, at a very deep level.

When you’re writing the books, do you plot meticulously and know the ending before you start writing?

No. Every writer has a different way, but for me what works is a combination of plotting and surprise. I take the view that if I don’t surprise myself, I won’t surprise my readers, but at the same time I need to have a basic structure. So the way I plan a book is that I always know the ending I want to get to, but it might change when I get to it, if I think of something better or another twist that I can add to turn on the agony for my readers! I plan about the first hundred pages in quite a lot of detail, so I know where that’s going. I know some of the key high points of the story, so I know roughly where I want to get to, but I love it when at round about page 100, the book starts to take on a life of its own, when the characters are all established, and then quite often I introduce something I hadn’t planned.

To give an example, I think it was in Not Dead Enough, which is the third Roy Grace, I was with the police in Brighton and we were driving inland from the seafront on the London Road – I’m going back to about 2004/5. There was a row of rather beat-up looking camper vans all parked along there and I said to the officer “Do you know, I’ve seen those there day after day for weeks. If I parked there for an hour, I’d be ticketed and after four I’d be towed.” And he said “They’re all basically small time drug runners, we let them stay there because we can keep an eye on them”. So these were the bottom end of the drugs trade, they’re the ones that the big dealers use to distribute the drugs on the streets. That fascinated me, I thought “What would one of those people be like? What kind of a human being?” Then I went with some surveillance officers and we watched the place, and there was this one character who became quite significant in Not Dead Enough called Skunk, he just popped into my head at about page 100. I hadn’t had any intention of creating this character and he suddenly became quite a significant part in the book. I love it when something spontaneous like that happens.

Do you always know with more major characters how their story will unfold, like Sandy for example, or Bruno, or even Cassian Pewe?

With Sandy, what happened was I was asked by my publishers back in 2002 if I would consider trying to create a new detective character. I had a two book deal and I thought I might do something different. I thought there is a classic cliché of the detective with a broken marriage and a drink problem, and the reality is, in today’s police force, no cop with a drink problem’s going to last 24 hours. I thought that what good detectives do is solve puzzles, and that it would be interesting to create a character who had a personal puzzle of his own that he could not solve, and that’s why Roy has got this wife who’s been missing for nine years. I thought “I’ll introduce the mystery in book one and I’ll get the explanation in book two”. Then Dead Simple came out and I started getting inundated with emails from people speculating what might have happened to Sandy and I thought “You know what? I could have some fun with this!” That’s why I kept it going for so long.

I particularly like the way that you interweave Grace’s personal story with each crime investigation.

Well, luckily these days half of our social life, my wife and I, is with police, I guess it has been for a long time now, because I’ve just always gravitated towards them, because I actually find them both fascinating and immensely human people. So I see that home side of them, which I think most people don’t. There was a great quote by the head of the Met: “Wearing a uniform does not protect you from trauma.” They are ordinary people doing extraordinary things, that includes all emergency service workers.

You mentioned trauma – a police officer who’s attended a horrific car accident or a murder must often experience something like post traumatic stress, and then have to go home with that experience in their head.

Yes, exactly. I’m very friendly with a traffic officer. In East Sussex about ten years ago there was a case of a horrible divorce, a couple had two small children aged two and four. The wife gassed the two children, put them in the boot of the car and tried to frame her husband. It’s almost unimaginably horrible. This friend of mine was literally first on the scene and spent half an hour desperately trying to resuscitate the kids before the ambulance got there, and obviously they were long dead. Then he went home off shift and had to bath and put to bed his own kids. That’s something that I think people forget, that officers go to a horrific accident where someone’s lying in the road with his head off, or a domestic abuse victim, or just the sheer misery of a couple who’ve been swindled out of their life savings, and then they go back to their lives and relationships.

We talked earlier about the stereotype of the dysfunctional, hard drinking loner, but presumably there are police who, like Grace, can maintain good relationships and still work at the top of their game?

Oh many, yes, absolutely, I know a number of very happy marriages. We are very good friends with one couple where he’s always just been a police constable and she became Chief Superintendent. I know two or three couples where there’s a kind of traditional role reversal on this. But I would say the police is not a great career to go into for stable marriages, there’s quite a high rate of divorce, but there’s also a great number of extremely happy and strong marriages.

But it is tough. I was out for dinner with some friends and the guy had a similar role to Roy Grace at one time. I asked his wife “What’s it like being married to Steve?” and she said “It’s a bloody nightmare!” She said “A month ago it was our wedding anniversary, so we were driving through the centre of Brighton to dinner, and we’re going to leave the car and take a taxi home. Steve suddenly spots a villain he’s been looking for for two years, so he just pulls up at the kerbside and says ‘Take the car, go to the restaurant, order me a gin and tonic, I’ll see you there’ and he hares off and chases the guy for two miles through Brighton, rugby tackles him and I’m sitting in the restaurant at 11:00 o’clock and he’s still booking him in.” A lot of officers cannot switch off.

Do you ever think about ending the Grace series?

Right now I have absolutely no plans to end it, I’ve just signed a new contract with my publishers for another five books and at the moment ITV are incredibly enthusiastic and planning long term.

I know that Conan Doyle got so fed up with Sherlock Holmes he killed him off, but then he couldn’t find anything else that was as successful so he had to bring him back, so yes, that does happen, but I really love them. For the themes that I want to explore, where it wouldn’t work in the confines of a detective novel, I write my standalones, and I do a standalone roughly every three years. Most of what I want to learn about I can do within the Roy Grace books.

What I love about the Grace series is that just a few weeks or months have passed  between each book. I think that has a really immersive effect on a reader – is that why you chose to do that?

Very much so, yes. Ian Rankin moved Rebus on a year with each book, and then he hit the buffers of 60 at retirement age. Luckily for Ian the Scottish Police raised the retirement age to 65, so it gave Rebus another 5 years, but now he is retired. I didn’t want to do that with Roy Grace, and also I wanted to show Roy’s new love of Cleo. A year in a relationship is a massive time from first date to living together. I wanted to show that relationship slowly developing against the background of the missing Sandy story, so I thought “Well, I will take author’s licence and play with time”. Luckily Roy is only 43 now after 19 books!

Each book starts a short while after the other, one or two start the next day, but I’ll move them on a year at a time as much as I can. I’m having a slight struggle at the moment with what I do about positioning Covid. The latest one I finished is set in September 2019, but the new one I’ve just started, I’m still trying to make my mind up, because Covid date stamps things.

So you have to perform a  juggling act with real time and fictional time?

I think it’s really important to keep the books current but without losing that ongoing continuity. It is a juggling act. I try to avoid things that will clearly date it, but I had to deal with the Olympics, and in Dead Man’s Footsteps, I wrote about the guy who faked his disappearance at 9/11, which I wrote five or six years after 9/11 had happened. But now with ITV making the series it’s 20 years on, so we’ve had to update that and change it from 9/11 to something else, to keep it contemporary.

You portray Grace having to switch his focus back and forth between the warm, loving world of his private life and the dangerous, dark world of his working life – is it a similar process for you as a writer, having to switch back and forth between those two worlds?

Yes, and I enjoy the challenge of that. I think that with somebody like Roy, a detective investigating murder, there are not many jobs that carry more responsibility, because not only have you got to try to catch the killer to provide closure for the family but also, the longer you don’t catch the killer the longer that killer is out there and could kill again, so there’s an incredible responsibility that comes with that work. But at the same time he has a family. And chickens! That reflects me a bit. We have lots of animals and I find them very grounding. I remember waking up the morning of the Manchester bombing a few years back, and the world felt a very dark place, and then going out and hand-feeding the alpacas carrots and slices of apple – they don’t know all this s*** that’s going on in the world, so it brings you down to earth, it’s wonderfully grounding.

I really enjoy your portrayal of Roy Grace’s twice daily briefings with his team on a major investigation, the democratic way he runs them, with everyone from the lowliest officer upwards feeling free to speak up, give their opinion and theorise.

I’m glad you like that, because I get really angry when I see on television Senior Investigating Officers portrayed as bolshie, angry bullies. In my experience homicide detectives are emotionally intelligent people who do listen to their team.

How have you developed such a close relationship with Sussex Police? They must trust you completely.

I think it’s a relationship built up over many, many years. I got burgled back in 1982. My first two books had just been published (they were very bad spy thrillers) and a young detective came to take fingerprints, a guy called Mike Harris, and he said if you want any help with research give me a call. He was married to a detective. My then wife (who was a lawyer) and I became friends with them and they invited us to a barbecue one day. There were a dozen of their friends and they were all cops in different disciplines, homicide, traffic, response, neighbourhood policing, and just talking to these people I thought, “Nobody sees more of human life in a 30 year career than you guys do”.

When they realised that I was genuinely interested, not just out to get a story to flog to the paper, they invited me to come and spend a day with them in a response car and see what they do, and it kind of went on from there. Then I started putting police characters into my books and they liked the way I portrayed them, they felt that I was showing the world what it really meant to be a police officer. And that was how it all began.

Over the years I’ve worked quite closely with them, quite a number of the books I’ve written have come out of suggestions by the police. They asked if I would write a book about organ trafficking, so that’s what led to me writing Dead Tomorrow. More recently, for example, with Dead At First Sight, Sussex Police approached me and said people in Sussex had been scammed out of over £5 million in the previous two years through internet romance fraudsters. They said they would be willing to show me their files, obviously without names, to show me the extent of the issue, and that if I would consider writing a Roy Grace book about it that would help maybe raise awareness of it, and highlight it.

And Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, when he was head of the Met, wrote to me about seven years ago, when they’d just created the Super Recognisers*. He asked me if I would like to go out and spend a day at Scotland Yard with the Super Recogniser team because he’d love it if I put it in my books, to help raise awareness to other police forces about it.

And presumably bring it to the attention of readers who might want to volunteer to be Super Recognisers?

Yes, I was delighted that at least five or six people subsequently wrote to me and said that they had become Super Recognisers for the police after reading about it, so that’s wonderful.

So they trust you to convey what their work is really like, and also to get important issues across to the public?

They do. I always let them see what I’ve written before it goes to final print. They’ll tell me things in confidence and say “Don’t write that” and I won’t. I’ve never broken that trust.

I try to give them something back as well, so I’ve donated a couple of police cars to Sussex Police, and also supported campaigns for them, and I’m co-patron, with the Chief Constable, of the Sussex Police Charitable Trust, which helps police officers who suffer trauma or hardship.

I genuinely think that the police get a bad press these days, some of them feel that they’re constantly under attack. But I genuinely believe that most police officers are extremely good, decent people who do this job because it’s one of the few jobs where you can actually make a difference to the world. And I think police are a major part of the glue that holds civilisation together.

 

* In his book Need You Dead, Peter James introduces the new field of Super Recognisers:

… the average human being can recognise 23 per cent of faces that they’ve seen previously … But a tiny percentage of the population, now known as Super Recognisers, can achieve up to 90 per cent … with consistent accuracy, from just one single feature. An earlobe. A nose. A chin.

 

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32 comments

  1. Really interesting interview, particularly on the emotional toll that their work can take on police officers. And amazing that Peter James is still finding new themes to explore after so many books in the series!

    1. I agree Rebecca, his curiosity and desire to learn new things is impressive, and obviously energises the Grace series book after book.

  2. Another fascinating interview – thank you. I hadn’t realised how closely he worked with the Brighton police, but after reading about him travelling with them up the London Road and seeing the low-end drug dealers, I can see how important their input is.

  3. Peter’s close relationship with the police comes across so clearly in the interview and gives him such an important background for his writing.
    I very much support his view that officers in the vast majority are working for society in a difficult job and let down by a few who damage the force.
    I like a series that develops the background of the key characters, you really come to care about their lives.
    Great interview. Thanks.

    1. Thanks, Nicky, so glad you enjoyed it. I agree completely about the police, it’s good to have an author who shows what their job actually entails, and the physical and emotional toll it can take on them.
      I also love the emotional investment in the key characters that Peter’s writing creates.

  4. I’ve learned so much from this generous interview, especially about the world of the police, and the involvement and interaction shared between police officers and their chronicler through fiction. Keeping the drug dealers comfortably parked within sight is somehow reassuring, and the mis-spelt forged passports anecdote is a joy.

  5. An absorbing interview. The section on what makes for good crime fiction was illuminating, especially where Peter James talks about boundaries the writer shouldn’t cross. (I was excited to learn that his latest novel tackles the world of art forgery – a choice of subject which greatly appeals to me.) Interesting too the emphasis PJ places on establishing a balance between Grace’s private and working life, and how he roots his fiction so firmly in his dealings and relations with Sussex Police. I won’t be volunteering as a Super Recogniser though. I’d be completely hopeless.

    1. I also love the way Peter interweaves his crime plots and Grace’s private life – he hooks us in with both, so that we not only can’t stop reading each individual book to reach the resolution of the mystery, but we can’t wait for the next book to find out how Grace’s personal story will develop. And sadly I won’t be volunteering as a Super Recogniser either, I’d be completely hopeless too.

  6. I thoroughly enjoyed this interview and would like to thank Rosalind and Peter very much indeed for it. I have been reading Peter James for some time and have always been impressed with the high standard he maintains. I was particularly interested by the section on raising the bar. I have always been interested, too, in the relationship between the police and James and the role it plays in the novels’ narrative trajectories. I have always liked the sense of realism that underpins the text, which the details of policing gives, which is also balanced by the supernatural elements of the text. A talented and professional writer, James never ceases to engage me.

    1. Thank you, Claire, so glad you enjoyed it. I agree, the high standard Peter maintains throughout the Grace series is remarkable, there’s never any staleness, or any sense of his coasting. He doesn’t seem to take his readers’ engagement for granted despite his huge success.

      1. I agree. For me, part of James’s ability to raise the bar lies, also, in his compelling plot lines and his construction of characters that represent a range of humanity. For me, James not only develops the leading characters but introduces credible and interesting characters that are specific to individual novels. It is the blending of the old and the new, the dialogue between the two, that James is so adept at, that never fails to interest and engage me.

  7. A hugely enjoyable and informative interview. It was a great insight into the world of a crime novelist. So much preparation, research, and involvement with Police Officers. It was fascinating to hear how all the characters are chosen, and develop. PJ has such an understanding of human nature. Learned so much. Thank you for this.
    PS Loved the mention of the alpacas!

    1. He really does have an unerring instinct for people’s emotions and thought processes. Even the bad guys come under his scrutiny and reveal their interior lives and better nature, if they have one (some definitely don’t!). Peter is obviously interested in the root causes of crime and the various factors that might lead someone to take the wrong path in life.

  8. I love a good crime story! What I find very interesting in this interview is what Peter James says about the methods he uses for his research, especially the very close relationship with the police and real detectives. This seems to me to be merging with the way real crimes now very often are presented on television in partially fictional frames with actors illustrating the real crime.
    I therefore find it deeply ironic when Roy Grace exclaims, horrified, to the culprit he has just caught: «Death as entertainment, is that where we are now!?»
    Something to think about.

    1. Ah yes – the eternal question of detective fiction – do you show the reality of suffering and death as entertainment, or do you make it an artificial puzzle story and get told your characters are cardboard cut-outs? It’s a dilemma that’s played out since the Golden Age of detective fiction (e.g. Agatha Christie etc.). Dorothy L. Sayers really went into it not only by making a major character an author of detective fiction who could work through these dilemmas as part of her plots (kinda meta!); but also by showing the aftermath of the trial and conviction up to and including (in those days) execution of the criminal. A murder in real life is clearly not light entertainment – should it be in fiction or “fictionalised reality”? Maybe we should all go away and only read about flowers and pixies and not confront the realities of life. Or maybe like Shakespeare we should accept that entertainment covers all parts of the human condition including acting out death. While we might not want too much reality in our portrayals of slaughter, all fiction has a basis in some part of real life. We can watch the historical murders in Richard III without sinking to the level of the Romans watching death in the arena… Now where’s my copy of King Lear for a spot of eyeball gouging??

      1. Yes, death has always been part of highbrow entertainment, has it not? As you imply, Richard III is a “true crime” story – well, that’s debatable of course, don’t want to upset the Richard III Society. Anyway, you might be interested to read what Emily Winslow, a crime writer I interviewed for this blog, had to say in answer to the following question:

        “Some might think that writing, and indeed reading, crime fiction indicates an unhealthy attraction to the dark side of the human psyche. But is it actually a healthy way of exploring fears and dangers in a safe place?”

        “I’ve thought about it and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s perfectly fine, and that when I spend time reading about it or writing about it, the focus isn’t on the crimes, the focus is on coping with the crimes, responding to the crimes, regrouping and rebuilding after something immense and world-changing has happened. If you look at most crime novels, they don’t lovingly detail the violence chapter after chapter. Something horrible has happened and then you see people trying to cope and recover afterward, and try to make something out of it and try to do the best they can to fix what’s fixable. I think it’s extremely healthy.”

    2. In my experience of talking to readers, it is not the murder itself which lies at the heart of the attraction of a detective novel, it is the ingeniously constructed plot, the unravelling of the intricate puzzle, the misdirection, the characters, and the exercise of intelligence, courage and dogged determination by the detective in the pursuit of justice.

  9. I was really fascinated by the bit in the interview about audience expectations: having to kill a major character off occasionally or else by NOT doing that you’ve told the audience that everything will always be OK and everything will always be the same. The concept of what the author hasn’t written carrying as much meaning as what they have written is amazing. I also loved the bit about what the public will tolerate – you can show violence to humans and that’s kind of expected, but violence to animals is definitely not what the readers want. Possibly because violence to animals is more likely to be gratuitous and not move the plot along? I love these sort of “meta” issues about how writing is done and meaning constructed.

    1. Yes, I found that interesting too, that what the author hasn’t written affects reader expectations as much as what they have written. Peter recognises that while readers may want everything to remain the same in relation to his cast of central characters, not only does that not reflect reality, but it also undermines that element of the unexpected essential to any good crime mystery. He reminds us, uncomfortably, that trauma and tragedy can strike anyone, including those characters we have invested in emotionally during the course of the series.

      1. Possibly keeping the artistic scope to do something unexpected is the hallmark of a great writer rather than a commercial author. One could just give the audience the cosy reassurance and lack of challenge they want, but it’s more impressive to keep moving into new territory as Mr James does.

  10. Yet another enjoyable author interview! What an interesting read. I am fascinated by Peter’s relationships with real life members of the police force and his sympathetic take on what they have to go through in order to have that career. There is so much bad press around the police at the moment, it certainly grounds one to hear real anecdotes about how much it consumes them and their families.

    I was also taken by what Peter said about how reading crime stories is a way for humans to consider how to prevent bad stuff from happening to us. I hadn’t considered this before, but it’s probably true!

    This was such a lovely read and I’d love to hear more from him having read this interview.

    1. Thanks Liz, I’m so glad you enjoyed it. You’re right, it’s good to be reminded that while the press focus on the minority of bad incidents around the police, there are thousands of decent, dedicated officers around the country trying to do a difficult and dangerous job as well as they can. Peter’s books really convey the stresses and strains of such a demanding job on the officers and their loved ones.
      You say you’d like to hear more from Peter – watch this space …

  11. Wow! An absolutely fascinating interview! Made me think about Charles Dickens and his journalistic pieces about his night-time excursions with the police, aspects of which would later appear, in some interesting form, in one of his novels.

    1. I love your allusion to Dickens, Kathy, what a great point to make – I’m sure Peter would be delighted to have that connection made. And I’ve a feeling Dickens would love the Grace series!

  12. O dear! Shouldn’t have read this! Never touched a word of Mr James and only dipped in to the interview because I like the Ros Blog. AARGH !- so interesting – now I’ve got to read the whole series – and I’ve amassed a pile of books up to the ceiling waiting my attention already. Next time Ros – make your interviews less tantalising!

    1. Thank you so much, Gill! I’m delighted you found the interview so interesting. I’m sure Mr James will be equally delighted to know that his books have joined your TBR pile!

  13. I loved reading this interview – the interviewer and interviewee between them have produced something open, honest and deeply engaging. I loved all the background information about police work – I learned so much. I was struck by Peter James being motivated by wanting to learn new things for each book in the series. I can only imagine how much I would learn by reading the Grace books, and want to embark on them despite knowing that, as a slow reader, it may take the rest of my life to catch up with Peter’s prolific output! I’m intrigued by the Super Recognisers – there is someone in my family who I’m sure has this unusual ability, I’m looking forward to discussing it with them!

  14. What an absorbing interview, so many intriguing points to mull over! I have recommended this to my book discussion group friends as a “must read”. I was particularly interested in Peter James explaining that he motivates himself by learning new things, because I always feel that I learn so much from his books.

    It’s clear from this interview that he works very closely with Sussex Police, which makes his portrayal of steady, methodical, painstaking investigation not only authentic but deeply satisfying. For the layperson, this insight is fascinating – gait analysis, super recognisers, who knew?!

    I have just finished reading the 17th, Left You Dead, and was so moved by it that I had to pause for a while before finishing the book, and it has stayed with me ever since. I really felt that Roy Grace’s personal story drove this book forward from start to finish, against a backdrop of a typically ingenious Jamesian crime plot. I am so impressed by the way Peter James continues to write gripping, ingenious novels so far into this series. I can’t wait for the 18th to come out!

  15. Having never heard of super-recognisers I decided to take a University of Greenwich online test, in which if you score “above 10 you may be a super-recogniser.” To my amazement I scored 11 out of 14! “However, no single test on its own is diagnostic of super-recognition face recognition ability.”

    1. Thanks to you I too did that University of Greenwich online test, and despite a poorer result than yours (8 out of 14) I signed up for another three tests. I managed to scrape into the top 50% of the population on face recognition, so I don’t anticipate a late career in super recognising for the police, sadly.

  16. Gait recognition is also an interesting phenomenon and maybe related to super-recognition of faces, being an enhanced version of a skill essential to social living. Some intelligent non-human mammals behave altruistically towards non-related neighbours who are ‘friends’ and will return the favour. I wonder if anyone has looked at whether apes vary in their face recognition abilities – it could be a survival trait! A young orang utan in the Paris Zoo once apparently recognised my brother and grasped his hand like a friend. Oh dear, off the point already, and now I’ll have to go and look up this latest intriguing new idea from Mr James. Previously the reduced ability to spell (or to proofread) of the passport forger was more of a non-survival trait !

    1. I too find gait analysis particularly intriguing, apparently our gait is as unique to each of us as is our DNA. I can vouch for the usefulness of using gait analysis when watching live football from a distance in a large stadium. Decades ago when I first started attending live matches I struggled to identify individual players, but soon discovered that I recognised the way each player walked and ran. Little did I realise then that this skill would become a useful weapon in the armoury of crime investigators.

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