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8-min read

Crime fascinates me, says author Peter James

One of the UK's most treasured crime and thriller novelists Peter James in conversation with IBNLive.

Ruchira Singh | http://RuchiraSingh

Updated:February 26, 2011, 4:05 PM IST
Crime fascinates me, says author Peter James
One of the UK's most treasured crime and thriller novelists Peter James in conversation with IBNLive.

One of the UK's most treasured crime and thriller novelists Peter James in conversation with IBNLive.

IBNLive: Can you talk us through the process of writing and researching 'Dead Like You'?

Peter James: I always try to write a book from all perspectives and and angles of the characters, from the perspective of the criminal victims and also the each and every character that is a part of the story. I do intense research for every aspect of the story. Also, I spend a lot of time with the police and have a terrific relationship with them. Especially with the police in England.

I also attend a lot of police conferences and about 5 years back I attended a presentation given by the Senior Investigating Officer on a case that became known as "The Rotherham Shoe Man." Between 1983 - 1986 over twenty women reported that they had been violently raped and their shoes taken. Then, suddenly, the offences stopped. The police had lost all track of him, in 2006 a woman was arrested for drunk-driving and her DNA routinely taken. Then suddenly on the national DNA database a partial match was flagged up with DNA from the suspected but unidentified Shoe Man. It was what is known as a "familial" match which means a partial resemblance, high likelihood of a family member. This information was passed to the SIO who, as is normal, had kept the case file open. He contacted the sister and asked if she had a brother. She replied that she had, but that he was a very straightforward businessman. She then phoned her brother, James Lloyd, 49, the manager of a large printing company, a Freemason, happily married with an 11 year old daughter, and a 17 year old son, and a pillar of the community, and told him she had had a curious phone call from the police. Lloyd's reaction was to try to kill himself that night.

The following day the police raided the business premises. Down in the basement they found one hundred and twenty six pairs of women' high quality shoes, wrapped in beautiful cellophane. Lloyd was arrested and is now serving a life sentence.

And that story fascinated me, there was something creepy about the way he kept the "trophy" wrapped and kept in his drawer, and that was the trigger for the book.

IBNLive: Why do you choose dark-gruesome criminal stories as theme?

Peter James:I find the world the world of police and crime utterly fascinating. I I think the true world of crime has a lot in it, I particularly like to write about the real world and the world of crime is very real. I like to write about the real criminal as to why they commit crimes... And if you look at the history of fiction for example Shakespeare, if he was writing today he would have been probably writing crime. In his time writing plays was the fashion and half his plays were courtroom dramas. If we look at the ancient Greek literature Aristotle also wrote mostly about the society and its crime. I think crime is basically the backbone of fiction. What fascinates me is that these criminals lead a life of an absolute commoner and still have such dark sides to them.

IBNLive: Roy Grace, the main character of your books, is there a real person behind his character?

Peter James: Yes, the guy's name is Dave Gaylor, a detective inspector and he is quite a character. Few years back I had gone to his office. It was full of boxes - blue and green crates - full of files. When i asked him he said that those were his dead friends He explained that each one of the crates contained the principal files, case of an unsolved murder. He had been put in charge of reopening these cases to solve them with modern forensics. 'I am the last chance the victims have justice and I am last chance the families have for closure', the detective said. And I loved this very caring human image. Now, I actually give him readings of all my writing and he gives me insightful and creative inputs for the stories and characters I write. Although he looks nothing like the character of my books (Roy Grace).

IBNLive: You write crime novels and many criminal acts are quite violent and gruesome. Is there a certain line you won't cross when describing scenes in your books?

Peter James: It is actually a very good question because it is very hard to decision when you are describing something and where to draw the line. Especially when I was 'Dead Like You' I did not want to make the rapes (scenes) erotic or titillating. I was very lucky to have help from the Sussex Police which has a special team to handle rape cases which is headed by two specialist women officers, Sexual Offences Liaison Officers specially trained in dealing with attacked women at a hugely vulnerable time. They had read the chapters in which rape scenes where described and helped me.

IBNLive: Tell us your top five crime novels of all time

Peter James: Hound Of The Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle (being interested in the supernatural this novel combined my interests in this field with crime)

The Con Man - Ed McBain – I read it when I was young and this was the crime novel that excited me more than any other novel I had previously read.

The Deep Blue Good-Bye - John D Macdonald I fell in love with his work years back, after reading this, and devoured everything he wrote. Macdonald created the ultimate laconic character, Travis Mcgee, who lived on a houseboat on the Florida Keys and drove a Rolls Royce pick-up truck – and mostly got things back for people who had lost them, as well as sorting out their other problems. To me he is a much better writer than Chandler because his stories were better constructed.

Running Blind - Desmond Bagley I can honestly say that the day I put this book down, was the day I decided to start writing my own novel. Somehow in reading this wonderful book, I realized that to captivate a reader you needed somehow to bring magic to the page – but it wasn’t elusive magic, it seemed to be spelled out for me in Bagley’s writing. I read everything he wrote and then I felt an epiphany, an “I could do this!” moment.

Get Shorty – Elmore Leonard They say he is the man and you just have to read him to understand why. Characters, characters, characters. He often doesn’t have a lot of tension in his stories but he doesn’t need to. His characters are so good you have those reading names out of the phone directory for three hundred pages and you’d still be hooked!

IBNLive: Who is your favourite fictional detective?

Peter James: It’s got to be Sherlock Holmes, he the guy who inspired me to write detective novels. I was addicted from the first book I read. There was a scene in which Holmes deduced that a suspect lived in a house where the bathroom window, and therefore the light source was on the left (I think) of the washbasin, because the left side of his face was always better shaved. I was blown away by this detail. And I just love the whole complexity of the man he's just very smart and has so much detailing.

IBNLive: Are there any writers that you think have influenced your work?

Peter James: Yes many. I think in terms of style the writers I was most captivated by as a younger reader were Ernest Hemingway and Graham Greene. Today I would say one strong modern influence is Ian Rankin, particularly in the way he touches on social issues in his work – and I believe that great writing should have relevance to its times.

IBNLive: What is the most difficult aspect of being a novelist?

I think the most difficult part is starting a new novel... I always think I just got over with it and now have to start again!

IBNLive: Have you read any Indian authors?

Peter James:Yes a lot of them actually! But I really like Vikram Seth's works also Arvind Adiga's White Tiger was a wonderful read. But I am not a Salman Rushdie fan I don't like him at all he just bores me.

IBNLive: In near future would you plan writing a novel with India as background?

Peter James:I would love to! But this is my first visit to India and I like to do intense research for my novels, also I like to know the city and area really well before setting anything around a place. So, yes may be sometime in the future.

IBNLive: You've worked for many films, which one of your movies are you most proud of?

Peter James: The Merchant of Venice (2004), when we had Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles to the premiere. It is my most recent film and the one I am the most proud of. It has a magical quality and it deals with some very important aspects of human nature – the incredibly topical one of religious fundamentalism being at its heart. I have always found the play very interesting and Al Pacino did a great job in the film. The working chemistry with him was just right.

IBNLive: Do you think movies inspired by books do justice to the narratives?

Peter James: No! Mostly they don’t… As book has much more scope by the way it can make the reader think whereas in films fail to that. The scope is much narrower in a film. Some films have also done a great job like the Silence of the Lambs but mostly reading a book is a much better experience. Also, I am saying that because I am someone who simply loves reading. If I had to rate reading to me is the most important thing and second only to eating.

IBNLive: What’s your take on e-books?

Peter James:I think e-books are the future of reading, as reading is becoming "cool" again. Personally I still love the smell and touch of printed books but I think as e-books become less expensive they will become popular. But… always remember that way back, story-telling began as an oral tradition. Then the stores started to be recorded, first by being carved on clay tablets, then on paper. It would be a curious thing if we end up back in the oral tradition, only listening to audio books.

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