I enjoyed meeting up with Peter James last weekend at The Theakstons’ Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival, in Harrogate. Peter’s novel DEAD TOMORROW, is one of his most disturbing Roy Grace Detective Thrillers, and was one of the nominated books in the Theakstons’ Best Crime Novel of the Year Award. Peter has been nominated many times for this award, as well as being lauded throughout the world by the top international critics of the crime and thriller genre.
I have enjoyed Peter James’ dark police procedurals for many years now, and delighted to see his domestic success spread throughout the world. So it was with little surprise to see Peter in the spotlight at International Thriller Writers with an in-depth feature interview.
One question that Andrew Peterson of ITW asked James was also discussed in the one of the Harrogate Panels that Peter was speaking at, and chaired by Barry Forshaw, discussing the most disturbing aspects of the crime-fiction genre’s edges –
You write crime novels and many criminal acts are quite violent and gruesome. Are there certain lines you won't cross when describing scenes in your books? Do you have an internal alarm that sounds off if you feel a scene goes too far?
I think that everything in a crime thriller should be there for the purposes of telling the story, not for the writer to show off how much research he has done, or how gory he can write a scene. But equally I don't believe in shirking away from the truly gruesome. During the course of their work, police - and other emergency services workers - are faced with sights and situations that many people just could not cope with, and I see my role to portray these accurately. In my second Roy Grace novel, LOOKING GOOD DEAD, I have a scene in which Roy Grace has to retrieve a severed head from a bathtub filled with sulphuric acid. It was inspired by a story told to me by a homicide detective who had done just this. I attempted in the scene to convey the horror he himself felt at what he had to do, without the scene becoming "gothic".
However in DEAD MAN'S FOOTSTEPS, I have several scenes during the immediate aftermath of the airplanes striking the twin towers. I put in graphic descriptions, given to me by two NYPD officers who were among the very first on the scene, and I found it necessary to tone these down as they were too horrific - far more than had ever been described in the press.
In the real word of policing I have attended some truly horrific sights. At one crime scene I saw a young woman pinned to the floor by a dagger through each eye. At a particularly horrific Road Traffic Accident I attended, I saw one traffic cop kneel down and scoop up a dead motorcyclist's eyeballs into a dustpan. The emergency service workers have a way of dealing with this through so-called gallows humor. When there is a single vehicle fatality, such as a motorcyclist going too fast and hitting a tree, the traffic cops describe it, privately, as a DODI. The letters stand for "Dead One Did It." Another particular example of gallows humor I like (although I guess I shouldn't) is a FUBAR BUNDY. It is what UK ambulance crews whisper to each other at the scene of an accident where the victim is alive but clearly not going to survive. It stands for Fucked Up Beyond All Recovery - But Unfortunately Not Dead Yet.
I think the biggest censorship I find myself having to apply is when I am at dinner with friends. I sometimes forget their stomachs are not as strong as mine has become....!!!
Read The Full Exchange at International Thriller Writers - HERE
If you haven’t yet explored the dark world of Peter James / Roy Grace – Click here
Photo Peter James with Sponsor Simon Theakston © 2010 Ali Karim taken at Theakstons’ Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival