By Theo Cronin
How much does it cost to whack someone in Spain’s Costa del Crime? “It’s easy - give a Moroccan a Bin Laden!”
Both a question and an answer I had not anticipated when arranging to meet bestselling author Peter James for his first press interview on his latest novel in the Roy Grace detective series.
“I don’t often get scared when I research my books but in Marbella I was scared,” admitted Peter, talking of his trip to Spain last Easter while writing Dead Man’s Time.
The crime thriller, which is out today (June 6), sees Peter exploring the criminal underworld of 1920s New York, as well as the present-day murky meanderings of the Brighton antiques trade - which ultimately led him to Marbella.
Spain is a staging post for stolen antiques in Europe, and with rival Irish, Russian, Albanian and British villains vying for supremacy, there are a lot of murders, said Peter.
It was brave place for the 64 year old author to venture for he is renowned for his extensive police connections.
His central character Roy Grace is based on retired Detective Chief Superintendent David Gaylor of Sussex CID, and a plethora of police officers litter the Acknowledgements at the back of his books.
They in turn are some of his most ardent fans, offering him unbridled access to police procedures, operations and culture, in admiration of his accuracy, respect and support.
But Peter’s fans extend into the criminal fraternity too, as he was to discover in Spain.
A former bare knuckle fighter in particular gave him one of the best lines of Dead Man’s Time - the sort of authentic yet gritty dialogue that Peter and his readers so delight in.
“Give a Moroccan a Bin Laden.”
Peter, a compulsive story-teller set the scene.
He had received an introduction from a Sussex couple who used to run a car wash in Marbella, but had fled after Russian mafia refused to stop bringing bloodied cars to their premises.
He was to visit an English pub in Marbella and talk to the landlord.
“I walk in and see six of the worst sort of English guys you would ever want to see in your life – tattooed, shaven heads, wearing wife beaters, drinking lager, watching the footie.”
They all eye Peter, as he steadfastly aims for the far end of the bar for his rendez-vous with what turned out to be a tall and gangly character.
“He was perfectly pleasant,” recollected Peter, “but the first thing he said was ‘I’m a big fan of your books, I particularly like Dead Man’s Grip because I like the torture in it’.”
The barman regaled Peter with his life story which in short involved his formative years fighting gypsies for money, after which he had to leave England - ‘in a bit of hurry’ - when a drug deal with the Chinese mafia went south.
Peter asked, how’s business? He was furnished with an incredible story of shocking proportions, but one that would lead to his Bin Laden moment.
“Not great because we had a bit of a shooting here,” had said the ex-fighter landlord.
Peter discovered one regular had been shot in each testicle and six times in the chest by another regular.
The killer, an Irish hitman who had reputedly carried out 42 kills, had been called ‘a nonce’ by the other for ‘goosing’ his girlfriend.
Prior to the shooting he had calmly apologised to the landlord.
“Sorry for what’s about to happen here,” he had said.
After a long and successful career as a contract killer, he received a life sentence, all because of an off the cuff one word insult.
“That’s the unstable nature of these characters,” had said the landlord, while Peter mused his surroundings and the intent with which the clientele was eye-balling him.
Given the conversation at hand, he had asked a natural question.
“How much does it cost to have somebody whacked in Marbella?”
Peter scrunched up his face, and impersonating the cockney whine of the landlord, enjoyed reliving the moment he had first heard the killer line.
“Well it’s easy - you give a Moroccan a Bin Laden.”
A what? “A Bin Laden - 500 euro note – scarce as Bin Laden they are.”
Peter revelled in further explanation.
“A Moroccan will come over on the ferry to suit ya, do the hit ‘n’ be out of here that night.
“He can live for two years on that money and disappear into the desert.”
Peter had tried to take a few photos of the bar but was told: “I’d be careful about pointing the camera at them because they will not like it one little bit!”
The menace with which they stared at him genuinely frightened Peter.
“It was a very sinister moment, but worth it for a great sequence in the book,” he said, now back in the comfort and safety of his home in Woodmancote, West Sussex.
Dead Man’s Time, Peter James’ ninth Roy Grace crime thriller, is published in hardback on June 6th by Pan MacMillan.
THE INTERVIEW is a weekly feature published first in the West Sussex County Times and West Sussex Gazette by Theo Cronin