Tag Archives: Peter James

The Intel: Leigh Russell

blogger-image-940411775Some people have crime authorship sequenced into them at a genetic level. Take Leigh Russell. An incredibly prolific author, she can write two, perhaps three crime novels a year. She’s the author of the Geraldine Steel and Ian Peterson crime series, and her first novel Cut Short was shortlisted for for CWA Debut Dagger Award for Best First Crime Novel.

Now she’s begun a series starring a brand new, globe-trotting heroine – Lucy Hall. In Journey To Death Lucy arrives in the Seychelles determined to leave her worries behind. The tropical paradise looks sun-soaked and picture perfect – but as Lucy soon discovers, appearances can be very deceptive. A deadly secret lurks in the island’s history, buried deep but not forgotten. And it’s about to come to light…

For many years Leigh taught pupils with specific learning difficulties. She guest lectures for the Society of Authors, universities and colleges, and runs regular creative writing courses. She also runs the manuscript assessment service for the CWA. She’s even got her own YouTube channel. Oh, and she only wears purple.

Leigh’s an enthusiastic and fascinating writer, and a generous interviewee – so Crime Thriller is thrilled that she gives us the intel on Lucy, her extraordinary writing routine and how a writer must nurture their own voice…

Tell us about Lucy Hall…

At twenty-two, Lucy Hall is struggling to recover from a broken engagement. Hoping to cheer her up, her parents invite her to accompany them on a holiday to the idyllic island of Mahé in the Seychelles. The trip takes a dark and twisted turn as a secret threatens to destroy them. As she fights for her life, Lucy learns that she is far tougher and more resourceful than she had realised. 

Where did you get the inspiration for Journey to Death?

I was intrigued by a first hand account of a political coup that took place in the Seychelles in the late 1970s. This true account was the inspiration for my story. Apart from the historical background, the narrative is fictitious, as are the characters. Like all my books, it started with the question, ‘what if?’, this time set against a beautiful tropical island background.

The novel is set in the Seychelles – what kind of research did you do on the tropical paradise?

My story was virtually written when I went to the Seychelles to check on the location. We spent two weeks walking along sandy beaches watching the fishing boats setting out at dawn, swimming in the warm ocean, and watching the sun set over the Indian Ocean. It was a magical trip. I spent time at the British High Commission, visited several police stations, walked around the market in the capital, Victoria, and went up into the Cloud Mountain, all of which feature in the book. Everyone I approached was incredibly generous with their time and expertise, and it all helped to add depth and credibility to my narrative.

image002You’re incredibly prolific, you write two or three books a year, and yet you’ve said you have no writing routine – how do you manage to fit it all in?

I ask myself that question all the time! The only answer I can give you is that I love writing. It’s fitting everything else in that’s the problem. I spend a lot of time on research, and also appear at literary festivals along with all the rest of the promotional activities required of authors. It’s great fun, but I am often exhausted. My typing is quite fast, but a book is not about putting words on the page. It’s about thinking and ideas, backed up by working out and research. Once my story is in place, off I go. My schedule is incredibly busy but I like to work hard, so as long as the ideas keep coming, I’ll keep writing.

You run the manuscript assessment service for the Crime Writers Association – what’s the one piece of advice you would offer aspiring crime writers?

The one piece of advice I would give is to trust yourself. Other people will challenge and question what you do all the time, and it’s vital for a writer to be able take advice on board when it feels right, but you need to have that inner core of belief in yourself as a writer or your voice will be lost.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

A number of negative reviews appeared on amazon shortly after one of my books reached number one on kindle, but you have to learn to take negative experiences like that on the chin. I try to focus on the many positive reviews, and the encouraging messages fans send to my website, which I find really inspiring. I think most authors worry that readers might not like their books, so it’s important to be reminded that there are fans who appreciate what you do. So far I’ve been thrilled by the positive response my books have received. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Lucy Hall is also well received.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Having spent four years studying English and American Literature at university in the UK, my reading taste is quite varied. I admire so many authors, it’s very hard to pick just a few, but names that spring to mind are John Steinbeck, Harper Lee, Edith Wharton, Kazuo Ishiguro, Charles Dickens, Emily Bronte… I could go on. Among contemporary crime writers Lee Child, Jeffery Deaver and Peter James, all of whom are fans of my books, Val McDermid, Ruth Rendell, Michael Robotham, Alexander McCall Smith… again I could go on. There are so many great writers around, we are spoilt for choice, thank goodness!

Give me some advice about writing…

The late great William McIlvanney wrote: ‘I didn’t tell people how to write. I encouraged them to write and to see that defying my advice was possibly as valuable as following it.’ To my way of thinking, this is excellent advice. There are no rules in writing, other than to make your writing work. If you want to try something that has never been done before, of course there might be a reason why no one else has attempted it, but why not give it a go? If you don’t try, you will never know if you could have succeeded. And challenging yourself is part of the thrill of writing.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently working on the second book in the Lucy Hall series. This one sees Lucy in Paris, which of course required more research. We stayed in several locations near the centre of the city, visiting sites like the Eiffel Tower, and exploring fascinating areas off the tourist map. While we were there, we tried out different sorts of French food and wine…  Yes, all this research is hard work!


Journey To Death is available now as a paperback and in ebook, published by Thomas & Mercer.

The Intel: Felix Francis

Felix Francis

(c) Debbie Francis

Penning thrillers has been a family business for Felix Francis. His father, of course, was Dick Francis, the former jockey who produced bestseller after bestseller set in the world of horse racing. Felix grew up listening at the breakfast table while his mother and father discussed the best way to kill a man, and has carried on Dick’s writing legacy. Front Runner is Felix’s tenth novel, and the 51st Dick Francis thriller, and it sees the return of his hero Jeff Hinkley.

We’re delighted that Felix has agreed to give us the intel on Front Runner, how he came to follow in his illustrious father’s footsteps and how technology has changed the way he approaches his horse racing thrillers…

Tell us about Front Runner…

Front runner is my tenth novel and sees the return of Jeff Hinkley, investigator for the British Horseracing Authority, who first appeared in Damage. As always, the story is set against the backdrop of horse racing but there is far more to it than that. My readers don’t need to know anything about racing in order to read and enjoy it, although they might learn a bit on the journey. It is a novel of mystery and intrigue with some unexpected surprises. Jeff is approached by the multi-time champion jockey, Dave Swinton, to discuss the delicate matter of losing races on purpose. Little does Jeff realise that the call will result in an attempt on his life, locked in a sauna with the temperature well above boiling point. Dave Swinton is then found dead, burnt beyond recognition in his car at a deserted beauty spot. The police think it’s a suicide but Jeff is not so sure. He starts to investigate the possible races that Swinton could have intentionally lost but soon discovers that others are out to prevent him from doing so, at any cost.

Your undercover investigator Jeff Hinkley was introduced in your last book, Damage – how would you describe him?

Organised, loyal, courageous. Jeff is ex-military. He was an officer in the Intelligence Corps. He served several tours of duty in Afghanistan and is not phased by situations of intense danger when he has to rely solely on his wits to extricate himself from trouble. In Front Runner, Jeff’s long-term girlfriend has left him and he is hurt and angered by her betrayal. As such, he shows a vulnerable side to his character not normally obvious in his day job.

Horse racing is still a hugely popular spectator sport, but like many sports it’s having to adapt to modern times – does that offer new opportunities for you as a writer? 

In many ways it reduces opportunities as I find it increasingly difficult to think up story lines about wrongdoing as the authorities continue to close any loophole I might find. Modern technology has made detection so much easier and more reliable. No longer can one write a “traditional” story about simply drugging a horse or switching one horse for another as drug testing and electronic chip identification methods would mean instant discovery. The routine DNA testing for parentage, dope-testing and digital scanning of horses may make racing much more honest but it doesn’t help me work out new plots!

Maybe that is why so many crime novel writers are setting their books in the past when forensic science was less restrictive to their stories. The age old Agatha Christie model of twelve people (including Hercule Poirot) staying in a remote house, where one of them gets murdered and Poirot then solves the clues, would soon unravel as a lengthy story if DNA testing had been available. It would be over before it had started. I choose to write in the ‘here and now’ so I adapt and cope with the technology, but it doesn’t make things simple.

Front runnerYou were a physics teacher and a crack marksman before you started collaborating with your father on the Francis thrillers – at what age did you realise you wanted to follow in your father’s footsteps? 

I didn’t actually decide to follow in my father’s footsteps. It was all a bit of an accident. My father’s literary agent approached me and said that, after five years of no new Dick Francis novel, people were forgetting and my father’s backlist would soon go out of print. What was needed was a new novel to stimulate interest. By this time my father was 85 and my mother, who had worked closely with my father on the novels, had died.

I told the agent that there was no chance of a new novel. He then asked if I, as my father’s manager, would give my permission for him to approach an established and well known crime writer to write a new ‘Dick Francis novel‘. I replied that, before he asked anyone else, I would like to have a go. “Write two chapters,” the agent said. “And then we’ll see.” I suspect he thought that he would then get my permission to ask the established writer. I wrote the two chapters and, as they say, the rest is history. The agent told me to get on and finish the book, and I’ve been a full-time writer ever since.

You’ve said that discussions around the Francis breakfast table could be pretty gruesome – give us an example!

My parents very much wrote the books together and they would discuss details of the plot not only at the breakfast table but also everywhere else, especially in the car. My brother and I would try to join in. How much explosive was needed to blow up an aeroplane? How can you make a hot-water boiler explode? How long could Sid Halley survive with a bullet in his guts with his blood dripping through a crack in the linoleum floor? How much force was needed to cave-in a man’s skull with a glass paperweight? Lovely stuff.

Front Runner is your 10th thriller, and the 51st Dick Francis thriller – reading them, anybody would think that horse racing is awash with crime and murder. How have the horse racing authorities reacted over the years to the Francis thrillers?

My father always used to say that there was far more skullduggery in his books than there was in real life, but people often like to think there is some question mark over racing. If a gambler backs a horse that then wins, it was the horse’s doing. But, if it loses, the gambler is apt to believe that the jockey was at fault, maybe he even ‘stopped’ it winning on purpose even though that is most unlikely to be the case. Both my father’s and my books have always received a warm welcome from the racing authorities. I believe this is because, even though we do tend to concentrate on the darker side, the books overall are very positive about racing in general. My father was inaugurated into the Cheltenham Racing Hall of Fame not for being a champion jockey, but for introducing more people worldwide to British racing through his books than anyone else.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

It’s not glamorous, it’s hard work and deadlines are very unforgiving.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

My father, obviously. As a teenager, I also loved books by Alistair MacLean and Desmond Bagley, wonderfully exciting stories that kept you turning the pages to discover what happened. More recently, I enjoy reading Peter James, Harlan Coben and Michael Dobbs. Sadly, when I’m actually writing, I find it difficult to read others. I am too immersed in the story that I am trying to create.

Give me some advice about writing…

Make your readers care. If they don’t care about the characters, like or dislike, then they won’t read the book. How often have you started a novel and then given up? It is because you didn’t care what happened to the characters so you didn’t bother to find out.

What’s next for you?

Book number 11. It is already under way and my deadline is next February, ready for a September 2016 publication.


Front Runner by Felix Francis is published by Michael Joseph, priced at £18.99 in hardback.

Guest Post: Elly Griffiths on New Ideas

Earlier in the week we said all manner of good things about The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths. Scroll down to read that review, or if your mouse finger hurts, click here.

After writing seven books in her Ruth Galloway series, Elly has, er, zig-zagged in another creative direction with her novel about a copper and a magician solving a series of gruesome murders in post-war Brighton. And the good news is, Elly told Crime Thriller Fella on Twitter only this week that she’s writing a sequel, tentatively called The Demon King, set in the world of pantomime!

Oh yes she is.

So, we’re delighted to say that Elly has written a guest post about how she came to put her hugely-popular heroine aside for a bit to write The Zig Zag Girl. It’s essential reading for anybody who wants to know how successful authors get those fragments of ideas out of their clever heads and onto the page. Enjoy!

Elly Griffiths

Photo: Jerry Bauer

I’m often asked if I’m afraid of writer’s block. I always answer, ‘No, touch wood, ha ha, hasn’t happened yet’ (you have to be there really) but, in fact, what I fear is the opposite. I worry that I’ll never be able to get all my book ideas down on paper. Over the last seven years I’ve written seven books in the Ruth Galloway series. When I wrote The Crossing Places I never thought that it would become a series. If I had I wouldn’t have broken the cardinal series rule (No 1: don’t let the protagonists have sex) in the first book. But I’ve been delighted and humbled that so many people have liked Ruth and Nelson and wanted to read more about them. It also makes me panic slightly (but only in a good way) when, after reading the latest book, people say, ‘When’s the next one coming?’

Because seven books in seven years doesn’t leave much space for anything else. And, in my head at the moment and in no particular order, I have:

  1. A children’s series about the Norse Gods
  2. A serious book about Lourdes
  3. A crime series about an old lady who has ideas for crime novels
  4. A book based on my grandfather’s music hall experiences.

Last year no. 4 became too insistent to bear and I sat down and wrote The Zig Zag Girl. It’s party based on my grandfather’s life as a music hall comedian: a different town every week, questionable digs run by questionable landladies, a succession of chorus line girlfriends. In my granddad’s case this life was all the more remarkable because he had a young daughter in tow (my mother). In my book one of the heroes is a music hall magician, Max Mephisto, whose war-time experiences are loosely based on a real-life character, Jasper Maskelyne.

As I say, I didn’t know that The Crossing Places would be a series. When I first wrote it I didn’t even realise that it was crime. I’d published four non-crime books previously (under my real name Domenica de Rosa) and I didn’t, at first, think that this one was very different. Starting out to write The Zig Zag Girl was a very different matter. I knew this would be a crime novel and it started me thinking about the building blocks needed to write a successful book in this genre.

The Zig Zag Girl1. A protagonist. Having written seven books about Ruth I quite fancied writing about a man. Much as I loved the character of Max I thought that I needed a policeman hero. If your main crime protagonist isn’t in the police force it does become rather a strain inventing credible scenarios for them even if, like Ruth, they can plausibly be called in as a forensic expert. So I came up with Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens, idealist, ex-spy, sucker for a pretty face.

2. A memorable setting. The Ruth books started with the setting – the wonderful but slightly eerie North Norfolk coast. I needed something similar here. But I was lucky. I live in Brighton, one of the most atmospheric towns in England, rooted in a deep and often dark history. And setting the story in the 1950s meant I didn’t have to face the inevitable Peter James comparisons.

3. A cast. The Ruth books have taught me that you need to spread the load. You can’t have one character constantly in jeopardy or rescuing others. You have to create a cast. So, in The Zig Zag Girl I have a host of other performers, some of them inspired by my granddad’s collection of theatrical bills. The Great Diablo, a once-great magician who has now succumbed to the demon drink. Tony ‘the mind’ Mulholland, a specialist in mesmerism. Charis, the beautiful ex-WAAF. Emerald, the snake charmer. Sonya and Tanya, exotic dancers.

4. A story. Well, this should have come first because of course I had a story. It has been in my head some time along with the Norse Gods and the old lady who solves crimes. I do hope people enjoy it.

The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths is out now, published by Quercus, priced at £16.99.

By the way, as we’re plugging stuff, check out this Intel Interview Elly did for Crime Thriller Fella earlier in the year.

TV Crime Log: Club, Leftovers, Legends & Strain

Crime Thriller ClubCrime Thriller Club very much covers the same territory we do here – crime fiction and TV – but it’s got Bradley Walsh going for it instead of The Fella.

*tumbleweed rolls past*

Anyhow. It’s returning for another six week series on ITV3, which is the channel your in-laws watch. Walsh is joined by some of the stars of the biggest crime thriller shows, goes behind the scenes of upcoming new crime dramas, and plays quizmaster as he sets out to find a ‘Criminal Mastermind’.

At some point in that last sentence we slipped into blurb speak, so we may as well print the rest of it:

Culminating in the glittering Crime Thriller Awards 2014 – the ‘Oscars’ of the crime thriller world – this series delivers exclusive access to the stars and sets of some of Britain’s best known crime thriller programmes – including much-loved shows like DCI Banks, Whitechapel and Silent Witness – as well as gripping new dramas like the BBC’s Interceptor.

Each week, Bradley interrogates a leading actor from a major crime thriller – including the likes of Robert Glenister and Stephen Tompkinson – and casts a forensic eye over the career of a literary Living Legend, profiling blockbuster authors including Robert Harris, Dean Koontz, Lynda La Plante, Michael Connelly, and Wire In The Blood creator Val McDermid.

Across the series, Bradley’s also aided and abetted by renowned authors including Adele Parks, Peter James, Mark Billingham and Kate Mosse, who join him to help review an outstanding new crime thriller book of the week – and we hear what inspired their creators, including Lucie Whitehouse, James Carol and Peter May.

So that’s Crime Thriller Club at 9pm on ITV3. Just keep pressing the down button on your remote and you’ll get there.

The LeftoversJust by hitting the return bar, we arrive at 9pm on Tuesday — or as you pedants like to call it: tomorrow —  and the beginning, on Sky Atlantic, of The Leftovers. Now this is not strictly a crime drama – but you know what? My blog, my rules.

Based on Tom Perrotta’s novel, it envisages a world three years after a certain proportion of the population are whisked off in the Rapture, and the population left behind feels very sorry for itself indeed.

The main guy in it, played by actor and scriptwriter Justin Theroux is the town sheriff – so there’s a crimey link if you really insist on one. The Leftovers has proved marmite in the US because of its insistence on focusing on the shattered personal lives of the people left wondering what happened to their disappeared loved ones rather than investigating its mysterious supernatural conceit.

The StrainWednesday night sees the first episode of The Strain on Watch at 10pm. It’s a television adaptation of the trilogy written by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan – who wrote Prince of Thieves! It’s basically a modern-day retelling of Dracula, in which an airliner arrives at JFK, a la the Demeter, its lights off and doors sealed. An epidemiologist and his Disease Control unit is sent to investigate — and a vampire virus is unleashed on New York.

The first novel in The Strain trilogy was an interesting new take on ancient material. The second and third volumes, The Fall and The Night Eternal… not so much. Del Toro said he wanted to reinvent the vampire novel as a modern-day procedural.

So, in case you’re wondering whether to invest your precious hours in these serials, The Strain has been renewed for a second season — along with The Leftovers. The aim is to tell the entire trilogy over, er, four seasons. It stars the ever excellent Corey ‘Cards’ Stoll and David ‘Hartnell’ Bradley.

LegendsThere’s more adapted drama on Sky 1 at the same time, Wednesday at 10pm. Legends is based on Robert Littell’s book of the same name. Sean Bean stars as Martin Odum, a Deep Cover agent who changes identities in the same way other people change their underwear. Which is, hopefully, a lot. Trouble is, Odum begins to wonder whether his own identity is also a lie.

It’s a great concept, but the ratings in the US have been somewhat tepid, and there’s still no word on whether it’s going to get renewed.

The Intel: Peter James

Peter James author photoAs you know, we love writers here, so I can’t think of a better way to begin the week than with an interview with one of the biggest names in the crime-writing business – Peter James.

As his latest Roy Grace novel went into paperback, topping  the  bestseller charts within three days of its release, I was thrilled to get the opportunity to speak to Peter about writing, research and killer first lines.

In your latest Roy Grace novel, Dead Man’s Time, you entwine the events of a double-murder committed in Brooklyn in 1922 with a vicious robbery in modern-day Brighton – what was the inspiration for the story?

The historical murders in my book were based on a real-life killing. A cop friend in New York, Pat Lanigan, who works for the Mafia-busting team in the city, told me a story about three years ago about his family history. At the beginning of the last century the Irish and the Italians had these massive gang turf wars in New York. The Irish were the White Hand Gang and the Italians were the Black Hand Gang. Pat’s Great Uncle, Dinny Meehan, was head of the White Hand Gang, and in 1920 he and his wife were shot in bed in front of their four-year-old son, who went on to become a famous basketball player.

I was fascinated by the story, and have always been interested in that period of history, as featured in the Martin Scorsese movie Gangs Of New York, and wanted to write a novel which used elements of it.

You’re renowned for the extraordinary amount of research about police procedure you do for your novels – how important is it that everything is authentic for you?

I’ve always been like that. If I go to a party I’m the one who sits watching everybody else, studying how they behave. Wherever I’m travelling in the world I’m always on the lookout for research for the two or three stories that I have in my head, always thinking two or three books ahead.

In 1981 I was burgled and the detective who came to my house saw that I’d just published a book – my first, Dead Letter Drop – and asked if I wanted any help with research. I got to know him well and, as a result met other cops and asked them about their work. I realized, as someone who wanted to write about human nature, why people do the things that they do, in particular the bad things, that nobody sees more of human life than a cop – sometimes even going in a single day’s work, from domestic abuse to cot deaths to murder. Everything.

When I was a young writer I would write the story and then give it to my police contacts to read. I remember one time I’d finished a book and a homicide detective pointed out something that would have meant a major change to the story. I thought about leaving it, but I couldn’t. I don’t think you can kid your readers that something is authentic when it isn’t. However, in the real world Roy Grace, as a Detective Superintendent, would be more deskbound, perhaps, and not so active. I take slight poetic licence with what his role would be in real life.

In a novel, there needs to be an inseparable trinity of character and research and plot. It is vital to have your readers care about your characters, and part of that process is to make them believable. I use psychologists – I have one on a permanent retainer to help me – and run my characters, their backgrounds and all that they do by them. For my next book Want You Dead I’m working with a psychologist who specializes in domestic abuse victims – I think it’s that if you’re dealing with sensitive subjects, you have even more of a responsibility to get things right.

Unknown-1The novels work as stand-alone novels, but there’s a thread –  Grace’s missing wife, Sandy – that runs-through them.

When I was asked by Macmillan in 2001 to create a cop for a series it seemed to me that every fictional cop had a broken marriage and a drink problem – and in reality, no cop with a drink problem is going to last 24-hours in today’s British Police force! What detectives like to do more than anything is solve problems and I thought it would be interesting to have a cop who has a personal problem that he can’t solve.

When we first meet Roy Grace he is coming up to his 39th birthday, and we learn that 9 years earlier, his wife, Sandy, who he loved and adored, has vanished off the face of the earth.  Although functioning as an effective homicide detective, Roy has been looking for her ever since, and dogged by the puzzle he has not yet been able to solve.  Did she run off with a lover?  Get abducted and murdered?  Have an accident?

I’d intended for the Sandy story to run for three or four books but readers told me how much they enjoyed it and were eager for it to continue. Sandy’s story will end at some point, and I have an ending in mind.

What’s the hardest lesson you’ve ever had to learn as a writer?

I wrote a novel in 1993 called Alchemist, a thriller about the pharmaceutical industry, but when I got to the end it didn’t flow, and it took me two-and-a-half years to rewrite. It was like a tapestry, from which I removed one thread and it all fell apart. It was after that book that I began to plan my books carefully. I got it right eventually, but it was a hard lesson. A book that should have taken eight months took three years.

So how important is planning for you before you write a book?

Planning is important, but so is spontaneity. I used to play a lot of chess when I was a kid. My Grandfather, who was an amateur Chess champion, taught me. I think writing a book is almost like playing chess against yourself. You’re always thinking 20 moves ahead. But often I’ll get halfway through a book and a better ending will occur to me. I love that feeling of satisfaction you get when something unexpected happens – you didn’t see a plot development coming – and the ending comes together. If you don’t surprise yourself as a writer, you won’t surprise the reader.

What have you discovered on your journey as a writer?

The most important thing is to write about characters that you care about. As a writer you need to love all your characters, the villains included. If you think about the greatest and most successful books in the genre, you care about the characters. In Silence of the Lambs, for example, you grow to like the hideous Hannibal Lecter, and you  even care a little for Buffalo Bill because he must be a little human, because he loves his dog! Frankenstein’s Monster didn’t want to be created, there’s pathos there. Endearing characters – that’s what people connect to. In all of literature it’s said there are only seven stories, but it’s the characters that makes them different, and it’s the characters that you remember.

What’s the best advice you can give to a new writer?

Read. What I did when I started out was to read – and reread  – books that were in the genre I wanted to write. I remember reading Brighton Rock by Graham Greene and I was just blown-away by it, so I deconstructed it to discover how he had made it work. I read Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby again and again – nothing seems to happen in that book but there’s a sense of dread that’s horrifying – and another book that I learned a lot from was Stephen King’s The Shining.

Another important lesson is you have to grab the reader straight away with a terrific first line, because if they’re browsing in the store and pick up your book and the first sentence doesn’t grab them, they’ll more than likely buy somebody else’s. I’ve talked to agents who’ve had authors say to them ‘Ignore the first 50 pages, it gets exciting after that!’

These days everyone has so much choice. Grab your readers and never let them go! We all learn from past writers, and from our peers.  My greatest thrill is to  go into a bookshop,pick up a book by an author I’ve never read before, and then be utterly riveted by it, so that when I put it down, I think to myself, “Wow, I wish I’d written that!’

Dead Man’s Time – Peter James

Unknown-1We mentioned earlier in the week, CSI Portsmouth, an event taking place tomorrow that looks at the way forensic science impacts on crime writing. Forensic technology and scene-of-the-crime resources seem to be evolving at a bewildering rate.

If you’re writing a police procedural can be difficult to know how much of that stuff to put in. You don’t want to overload your novel with detail which enslaves your detective to procedure, but you want it to be authentic. Well, here’s a fellow who gets the balance right.

Peter James’s latest Detective Superintendent Roy Grace novel is now out in paperback, and here’s the blurb:

Some will wait a lifetime to take their revenge… A vicious robbery at a secluded Brighton mansion leaves its elderly occupant dying. And millions of pounds’ worth of valuables have been taken.

But, as Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, heading the enquiry, rapidly learns, there is one priceless item of sentimental value that the old woman’s powerful family cherish above all else. And they are fully prepared to take the law into their own hands, and will do anything, absolutely anything, to get it back.

Within days, Grace is racing against the clock, following a murderous trail that leads him from the shady antiques world of Brighton, across Europe, and all the way back to the New York waterfront gang struggles of 1922, chasing a killer driven by the force of one man’s greed and another man’s fury.

James has made authenticity research the backbone of his novels, but it never overpowers the narrative in Dead Man’s Time, perhaps because the book is as much the story of 95-year-old Gavin Daly, a man who has been haunted all his life by the disappearance of his father from his Brooklyn tenement way back in 1922, as it is Roy Grace’s ninth outing.

In fact, despite despite the numerous references to forensic podiatrists and SOCOs and interview techniques, the research impacts on the story in small but eye-opening ways. For example, in the way known villains are monitored at football stadiums and how expensive new cars are often fitted with trackers that can be used to trace their journeys.

Nine books along, the reader’s relationship with Brighton copper Roy Grace is super-comfortable. He’s an Everyman detective. A team-player, dependable, a manager who is supportive of colleagues – I love his curiosity about the possibility of two mismatched coppers on his team having an secret relationship – with a wife and kid and a dog and a goldfish.

But the villains provide a satisfyingly ruthless edge to the proceedings, and there’s a putrid undercurrent of good old-fashioned seaside nastiness when a vile old nemesis makes his move against Grace’s wife and child.

What you’re always going to get with James is a super-smooth ride. The Grace novels unfold in short, more-ish chapters, which rest in plenty of white space – to me, white space is an underrated component of any good novel. There’s a purring engine beneath the bonnet of this book.

And, if there’s a slight inevitability about the destination – Gavin Daley’s desire to retrieve a rare Patek Philippe watch and to finally solve the mystery of his father’s death is resolved in an emotionally satisfying way – then there’s much to admire about the way James structures his plot along the way, pulling all disparate threads of the narrative together into a satisfying whole. It’s a big ask of any author to weave into a modern-day story the murder of a man who took place in the violent, gang-infested blocks of Brooklyn a lifetime ago, and James pulls it off with aplomb.

What I liked: As a writer it’s your job to make even the most minor of characters come alive, and James does that with a few deft strokes. For example, a hulking henchman character is introduced as The Apologist because of his habit of saying sorry after dishing out the most-violent of beatings. It’s simple tics and habits and quirks of personality that can really bring a character vividly alive.

I was lucky enough to interview Peter this week about Dead Man’s Time,  the lengths he goes to to ensure his novels ring true, and about his approach to writing, and you can read that very soon.

Thanks to Cecilia Keating at Midas PR for the review copy of Dead Man’s Time.