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Guest Author: Peter James
In July 2011, I was having dinner in New York with a detective friend in the NYPD, Pat Lanigan. He told me that his great-uncle was Dinny Meehan, the feared and ruthless head of the White Hand Gang – the Irish Mafia who controlled the New York and Brooklyn waterfronts, and much else – from the 1850s until the mid 1920s. It was one of the White Hand Gang’s methods of disposing of enemies in the Hudson that led to the expression, taking a long walk down a short pier.
Dinny Meehan was responsible for kicking Al Capone and other lieutenants of the Italian Mafia, the Black Hand Gang, out of New York – which is why Capone fetched up in Chicago.
In 1920 five men broke into Meehan’s home in the Dumbo area of Brooklyn, and in front of his four-year-old son, shot Dinny Meehan and his wife. The wife survived, and the boy went on to become a famous basketball player. The culprits were never identified. There was speculation whether it was a revenge attack organized by Capone, or a power struggle within the White Hand Gang from Meehan’s deputy, “Wild Bill” Lovett. Meehan’s widow had no doubts, confronting Lovett in a crowded bar, and he was eventually murdered, too.
Pat Lanigan volunteered to let me see the archive material. It sparked an idea which grew into Dead Man’s Time, where instead of become a basketball player, the boy ends up in Brighton as a hugely successful antiques dealer and we pick up nine decades later, when he is an old man, with memories and a still unsolved family mystery.
Brighton, which began life as the smuggling village, Brightelmstone, has always been a magnet for criminals. It holds the unique distinction as the only place in the UK where a serving Chief Constable has ever been murdered – Henry Solomon, in 1844.
If you were a villain and wanted to design your perfect criminal environment, you would design Brighton!
The city has a large, transient population, making it hard for police to keep tabs on villains, and making it easy for drug overlords to replace any of their dealer minions who get arrested. Sited at on the coast, transients who drift down the country reach Brighton and have nowhere left to go, so they stay. Its main police station, John Street, is the second busiest police station in the UK.
It is hardly surprising that the term “knocker boy” originated in Brighton. Several former knocker boys helped me in my research, telling me their many tricks of the trade.
In 1996 the Independent ran the following damning headline:
If your antiques have been stolen, head for Brighton – The Sussex resort is now a thieves’ kitchen for heirlooms
Many of the seemingly legitimate Brighton antiques dealers were just as bad as the knocker boys, hiding behind a veneer of respectability. Simon Muggleton, formerly Head of the Brighton Police Antiques Squad, told me that although the police were well aware of the activities of the ring they were never able to make any arrests.
One of the most scary moments I’ve ever had was last April, researching Dead Man’s Time in Marbella, the capital of the so-called Costa del Crime. A British bar owner greeted me by saying he was a big fan of my novel, Dead Man’s Grip. ‘I liked the torture in that one.’ He said. ‘Had a bit of a nasty shooting in here,’ he told me. A dispute between two men over a girl, resulted in the boyfriend being shot in each testicle and another six times in the chest. I asked the bar owner what the price was for getting someone ‘whacked’ in Marbella. ‘You just have to give a Moroccan a Bin Laden,’ he replied. He explained a Bin Laden is a €500.00 note – apparently as scarce as Bin Laden sightings used to be, and a Moroccan would take a day ferry across from Ceuta, do the hit and be back in Morocco the same day – and could live two years on that money. Life doesn’t come – or go – much cheaper.
Peter James is the #1 international bestselling author of the Roy Grace series, with more than 14 million copies sold all over the world. His novels have been translated into thirty-six languages; three have been filmed and three are currently in development. All of his novels reflect his deep interest in the world of the police, with whom he does in-depth research. He lives in England. The 10th novel in his Roy Grace series, Want You Dead (Minotaur) will be published in the US November 18, 2014.
The British crime author Peter James is back with Want You Dead, the latest thriller to feature his popular detective Roy Grace. He speaks to us about his newest work and dark inspiration.
You have published a new book annually for the past 10 years, not to mention regularly visiting literary festivals. When do you actually have the time to write?
I do plan my life a certain amount when it comes to my work. But at the same time there are certain things that also happen that you don’t expect. It’s like what John Lennon said: “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” People think the life of a writer is to just sit in your garage, write a big book and then go have a long lunch. But I do spend half of my year attending book festivals and I write when I am doing it. So I got used to writing in the back of the car and I remember finishing one novel on a plane to Singapore.
Your latest book Want You Dead has you focusing on the darker side of online dating. How did the idea come to you?
A lot of what I write is influenced by real life. With Want You Dead, the origins of that book was when a detective from Brighton phoned me up. He told me a story about a [female] doctor who signed up to an online dating agency. She met a man and she liked him but he was a little bit clingy. The man had a very colourful past and every time he would come to see her he would leave something in her flat, like he was stealthily moving in. Now the girl’s mother, she was suspicious about him and she hired a private detective to investigate and she discovered he had a real dark past. That gave me the inspiration for this novel.
Want You Dead is a real page-turner. Would it be fair to say that your writing style in the series has developed, whereby the plots are faster now?
I would say that. The first Roy Grace book [2005’s Dead Simple] was pretty fast-paced, but I gave myself the luxury in the new books of slowing it down a little bit and going more into depth. I am now deliberately writing at a faster pace again. I basically like writing the way I like to read. I want people to get hooked on the first sentence. That’s why I spend weeks on the first line or first page. Because that to me is everything.
With Roy Grace being such a loved character, do you feel like he belongs to readers now as opposed to being solely your creation?
I do feel like people have ownership when it comes to Roy Grace. So I have to be careful about what I do with him. I get so many emails that say “Don’t let him do this” or “He is now in a happy relationship so don’t ruin it”. People get heated about it, to be honest. That’s a great predicament to be in as an author. I love it. I love the fact that Sherlock Holmes is still receiving letters at Baker Street. I think the hardest thing in writing is to create a believable character and one that people fall in love with. When a writer does that, then it becomes even more difficult, as Arthur Conan Doyle found out when he wanted to get rid of Sherlock Holmes and do something else. People didn’t want that, they wanted Sherlock Holmes.
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As Peter James was born in Brighton, Sussex, on the South Coast, he has very kindly allowed us to talk about our new Internet Television Channel for the area, TVS Television. TVS Launched on 5 July 2014 with the Live broadcasting of neighbouring Eastbourne’s 999 Display. The event was filmed and broadcast Live by TVS on Sussex Police’s website. It will then be available to view on demand on the website for TVS at www.tvstelevision.co.uk.
TVS where back in the early 1990s Peter was a regular guest on the Fern Britton show, is making a comeback after 22 years and will feature lots of community interest programmes, to include documentaries on events such as Pride 2014, a series on Sussex music band talents, a Paranormal series, a children’s series and much more. So it will have lots of exciting new content, under the umbrella of the good old name.
TVS is on Social Media. We can be found at www.twitter.com/tvs_television and www.facebook.com/tvstelevision. Please do hop along and Follow us. If you have any ideas for content you would like to see broadcast then please do contact us via these methods or via our website www.tvstelevision.co.uk.