There was something close to the bone about a best selling crime writer recounting murder and mayhem whilst sitting in the same room where Winston Churchill and Lloyd George discussed the terms of the Armistice to end the Great War.
Peter James was at Danny House in Hurstpierpoint last Thursday at the invitation of The Book Lovers’ Supper Club.
His books have sold in their millions and been translated into 36 languages, with ‘Dead Man’s Time’ - the ninth novel in the award winning Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series - out in June.
Grace, as fans of the series will know, is a Brighton detective and Peter regularly goes out on patrol with Sussex Police to inject authenticity into his plots.
He said: “Most people join the police because it’s a vocation and they want to change lives. The biggest problem is form filling and political correctness. There is less form filling now but the old concept of the village bobby and a quick clip round the ear has gone.”
Peter drew his inspiration for crime writing from Graham Greene’s ‘Brighton Rock’.
“It’s the best crime novel ever written,” he said.
“Greene’s opening line grips you from the start: ‘Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him’.
“The book’s central character is a 17-year-old gangster, a murderer and a Catholic worried about eternal damnation. There’s such complexity.”
Peter was also inspired by one of the first books he ever read: ‘Five go to Treasure Island’ by Enid Blyton.
He said: “I wrote to her asking why none of the characters ever went to the toilet and she wrote back to me saying she didn’t think boys and girls wanted to read about that.”
The plot in Peter’s latest book, ‘Dead Man’s Time’ is a far cry from the ‘Famous Five’. It revolves around a priceless watch of sentimental value and Grace follows a murderous trail that takes in gangland New York and “the shady antiques world of Brighton”.
Peter’s books are certainly not for the faint hearted. One fan of the Grace series, who lives in Holland, emailed Peter to say: ‘My boyfriend and I really want to visit Brighton but we’re a little bit nervous’. Peter responded: ‘Don’t worry, Inspector Grace will look after you!’
Although Peter receives hundreds of fan letters, he is not expecting one from fellow author Martin Amis and time soon.
Peter often recounts the story of how they met during A-Levels at an Oxford entrance crammer course in Brighton. Years later, Peter met Amis again at an awards ceremony where they were both up for an award.
Peter recalled: “I went up to him and said: ‘You might remember me, we were at the crammer course together in Brighton.’ He said: ‘I don’t remember you and you only remember me because I am famous’.
“I stormed off and wrote on Twitter I had met the rudest writer on the planet. I got my revenge by inventing a character in ‘Not Dead Yet’ called Amis Smallbone who was no good in the bedroom department. I haven’t heard from Martin since!”