Booker biased against crime thrillers: British author (Interview)

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS
Saturday, February 26, 2011

NEW DELHI - Best-selling British author and movie producer Peter James has made it his mission to eliminate the stigma of trash associated with crime fiction in his capacity as chairperson of the prestigious Crime Writers’ Association of the UK. And if that means taking on the Booker Prize, so be it.

“There is a lot of literary snobbery about crime fiction. I think that Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and Graham Greene, who were all literary writers, wrote about crime. I have just become the chairperson of the Association and I make it my mission to take away the snobbery. I think this pigeon-holing of crime fiction as a separate genre is very elitist,” James told IANS in an interview in the capital.

He is the creator of the popular “Dead” series thrillers.

James was here for a day to promote his new book, “Dead Like You”, which climbed the top of the Sunday Times (London) bestseller list, dislodging James Patterson and John Grisham from the top slots.

He said he was going to have “a good attack at the Booker Prize”.

“Three years ago a Booker Prize judge told me that hell would freeze over before a popular crime writer wins the Booker prize. I want to try to get a debate going about it. The award should not be for fiction and being on the bestsellers’ list won’t preclude an author from winning the (Booker) prize,” James said.

James is the author of 25 crime and supernatural thrillers and is known for books like “Dead Simple”, “Looking Good Dead”, “Not Dead Enough” and “The Perfect Murder” that won an award in the best Quick Read books category by the British government designed for slow readers and fiction beginners.

The writer, who works closely with the Brighton Police in the UK and with several other countries in the world, says the market for crime fiction is growing.

“Nearly 45 percent of all the fiction that sells in England are crime thrillers. That is the same around the world,” James said.

The author writes about the “world in which he lives”.

“You want a good story and you want to learn something about life at the end of the book. If Shakespeare was writing today, he would have written crime thrillers. Half of all his plays had courtroom scenes,” James said.

The writer said immersing himself in the police culture to get the details right helps inform his writing.

James is working with former Channel 4 producer Gub Neal of “Cracker” and “Prime Suspect” fame to bring detective “Roy Grace” on television.

“I am doing it very slowly. Each book would have to be done two times and I am also creating new stories for television,” James said.

Detective Roy Grace, the protagonist of James’ Dead series, is a normal detective with sideways thinking and a kind heart, the writer said.

“He was inspired by someone. Going back a long time in 1981, a detective who came to my house in Brighton and saw the book. He said if you need any research help, give me a call. My then wife and I got friendly with this guy, Mike Harris. One day Mike told me that there was a guy I should meet,” James recalled.

The guy was Dave Gaylor, a detective inspector.

“He was quite a character. I went to Dave’s office. It was full of boxes - blue and green crates - full of manila folders. He explained that each one of the crates contained the principal files of an unsolved murder. Gaylor said he had been put in charge of reopening these cases to solve them with modern DNA techniques. ‘I am the last chance the victims have justice’, the detective said. And I loved this very human image,” James said.

Nine years later, when James’ publishers wanted him to create a new detective, the writer immediately thought of Dave Gaylor. “Gaylor reads every 100 pages of my books and tells me how Grace would think,” James said.

The writer said he would publish two new thrillers this year, “Dead Man’s Grip” - a thriller spun around a 41-year-old widowed mother; and “Designer Babies” about whether “evolution has done a good job”.

“And I will also race in the British racing circuit with a British Seat Toledo automobile of Spanish make in the coming season beginning April,” said James, a veteran racing driver.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at

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