Dead at First Sight by Peter James

24th December 2019.   4 stars.

You know you’re always going to get an original and topical plot with Peter James. With the fifteenth and latest outing in the Roy Grace series, it’s internet romance fraud and the havoc it wreaks on lonely people. On the surface, it doesn’t sound like a subject made for thrills, but when victims begin to fight back against the fraudsters the body count starts to rise.

And then there’s the welcome return of assassin, Tooth. He returns to Brighton, tasked with eliminating a couple of the bad guys by their former employer. Only Tooth’s not at his best.

Even though it lacked the pace and suspense of many of the Roy Grace novels, I enjoyed the story and the continuing struggles he has with his slimy boss, Cassian Pewe. The story’s easy to read and follow as the various characters head for the final showdown in the countryside. It looks like it could be mayhem, but Peter James always has a couple of welcome twists up his sleeve to make you gasp and smile.

While not the best of the series, Dead at First Sight remains an entertaining read with a serious message, highlighting the dangers of internet romance. There is humour, great writing and plenty of twists and turns from an author at the top of his game. He even leaves some unanswered questions from Grace’s private and work lives, so it will be interesting to see where the story goes from here.

Thoroughly recommended.

Description

You don’t know me, but I thought I knew you . . .

A man waits at a London airport for Ingrid Ostermann, the love of his life, to arrive. Across the Atlantic, a retired NYPD cop waits in a bar in Florida’s Key West for his first date with the lady who is, without question, his soulmate. The two men are about to discover they’ve been scammed out of almost every penny they have in the world – and that neither women exist.

Meanwhile, a wealthy divorcée plunges, in suspicious circumstances, from an apartment block in Munich. In the same week, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is called to investigate the suicide of a woman in Brighton, that is clearly not what it seems. As his investigations continue, a handsome Brighton motivational speaker comes forward. He’s discovered his identity is being used to scam eleven different women, online. The first he knew of it was a phone call from one of them, out of the blue, saying, ‘You don’t know me, but I thought I knew you’.

That woman is now dead.

Roy Grace realizes he is looking at the tip of an iceberg. A global empire built on clever, cruel internet scams and the murder of anyone who threatens to expose them.

Dead at First Sight

Five things I learned from writing No Bodies

No Bodies is the second novel in the Kent Fisher mystery series. It follows hot on the heels of No Accident, the first novel. If you want to read what I learned from writing No Accident, you can check the post here.

Both novels began their uncertain lives just after the millennium under different titles. After No Accident was published in 2016, I revised and rewrote much of No Bodies to bring it up to date and into line with the first.

1. Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten (Michael Crichton)

Okay, the rewrite was carried out over 12 years after the original version was written. Only the plot remained intact. The story was revised into the new style I’d developed. My newfound love of editing reduced the size of the book and sharpened the prose, allowing my characters to ‘leap off the page’ – something a literary agent didn’t find when she read the original version.

The story and treatment were similar to No Accident, but there was more purpose and drive to the investigation and a greater personal threat to Kent and those nearest to him. I also had the chance to expand Columbo’s unique relationship with Kent.

Robert Crouch Author

Robert with Harvey, aka Columbo

The rewrite proved challenging as the characters had changed but the plot had to stay the same. Times had also moved on, demanding a different approach to several of the issues raised by the story. Both restricted my freedom and new ways of working, drawing me to my next conclusion.

2. Planning was at the heart of my failures

No Bodies was originally planned in great detail. It’s a complex murder mystery with two separate storylines that ultimately crash into each other, helping Kent to solve the murders of several missing women.

My method of writing at the turn of the millennium was based on detailed planning of the plot and main events. I wrote copious notes, which filled a Lever Arch folder. Everything from character profiles, descriptions of settings, time lines and ideas for plot events found its way into the folder.

An outline of the story and main events helped me convert the many notes I’d written into a more detailed synopsis. This became the blueprint I kept beside the PC while I wrote the first draft.

It didn’t take long before I discovered how restricting this was.

My mind continued to produce ideas. Some were so tantalising, I couldn’t resist them. Many couldn’t be easily accommodated in the synopsis. It led to some bloating and diversions from the main plot that took the edge of the pace and momentum.

Looking back, I also believe the constraints of the synopsis smothered my natural creativity and immediacy. Planning dulled the prose. Planning resisted the unexpected moments that often lift a story or send it running in a new, but more exciting direction. Planning took the life out of the story and characters, as the literary agent discovered.

It also made me more determined to breathe the fire back into the story during the rewrites.

3. Nothing’s impossible. The impossible just takes a little longer.

Until the rewrite, I never fully appreciated one of my guiding principles.

Whenever life didn’t meet expectations, I would remind myself of this principle. Most of my writing failures were the result of rushing, impatience and a failure to recognise, or deal with, the shortcomings in my approach.

I hated editing and revising, which meant I often did it badly, if at all. I told myself editing destroyed the immediacy and essence of my narrative. It’s easy to make excuses for the things you don’t want to do. The trouble is, you don’t learn or progress either.

When faced with the challenge of updating a long novel I knew to be less than perfect, I was tempted to leave it and write a new story instead.

Only I couldn’t. I’d written No Accident to dovetail into No Bodies

With my guiding principle in mind, I didn’t rush the rewrite. The impatient and frustrated writer of old was replaced by a calmer, more determined one. Having parted company with the publisher of No Accident, there were no deadlines or pressures from outside.

I could even afford to make the story better and more realistic.

4. Google doesn’t have all the answers

Kent Fisher had to visit Glastonbury to confront a suspect. Naturally, things didn’t go to plan, leading to a chase across town. Having already visited and loved Glastonbury’s unique atmosphere and buildings, I’d written the chase from memory.

 

With the advent of Street View on Google maps, I had the chance to check out the route so I could describe it more fully. Within seconds, I discovered my memory was faulty. Google allowed me to plot a better route using Street View.

A few months later, Carol, Harvey and I went to Glastonbury for a break. We started to walk the Google route, but it soon went in a different direction to the one I thought I’d chosen.

Reverting to traditional shoe leather, written notes and photographs, we recorded the exact route I wanted Kent to take, murals included.

5. Just ask a police officer

The final detail I wanted to check for authenticity was the police interview facilities. The days of small, cold rooms with concrete floors and uncomfortable chairs, squeezed into the basement of the police station, have long gone.

The principles are the same – table, chairs and recording equipment, only the custody suite is more modern and uses video and PCs.

Thanks to a friend, who’s a former police officer, I was given a guided tour of the custody centre by the sergeant in control of the place. He took me from the area where suspects arrive, through the processing point, past the cells to the interview rooms. Along the way, he explained how they worked and used the facilities. He answered my many questions and even suggested how to improve the scene I was setting there.

Apart from the fascinating insights, the visit meant my scene has authenticity and accuracy, even if I had to lose a few of my more dramatic flourishes. To me, this equals credibility and hopefully builds trust between the reader and author.

The details are in No Bodies, as is an encounter I had with someone who walked from the suite into the waiting area where I was seated. She was bouncing along, grinning to herself when she spotted me.

“Just had some brilliant news,” she said, strolling over. “I got bail.”

I had no idea what to say, but I simply had to put her into the scene in No Bodies.


No Bodies is available from Amazon on Kindle and paperback.

Click here to learn more about me and the Kent Fisher mysteries.

 

Would you believe it?

Not so long ago, a reader asked me a question I couldn’t answer. We’re not talking University Challenge type questions that require a degree in quantum mechanics, if that exists of course.

I don’t know.

That’s the answer I gave to the reader’s question. What I should have said was, ‘I’ve never really given it any thought.’ At least that was true. ‘Let me think about it for a moment,’ I said.

My expression worked its way through several thoughtful grimaces. ‘How do I write a novel?’ I asked, repeating the question to buy more time. ‘I get an idea, make some notes and then open a Word document. I type Chapter One, and start writing.’

The questioner didn’t seem too enamoured with the response. Maybe it sounded glib, condensing a journey that can take months, years or even decades to complete. Many people never complete the journey from idea to finished novel.

My answer was an honest attempt to explain something I’d never given much thought to. I have ideas, I turn them into stories. Or the ideas sit in a file on my PC for future consideration. They’re insurance for the day when no ideas clamour to be heard.

Most questions readers ask me cause a temporary mental block.

I’m a writer so I write. I don’t generally think about being a writer. I still hesitate to call myself an author because I wonder if it sounds pretentious to others. It’s crazy, I know. It’s what I do, what I am.

I’m not ashamed of writing novels – quite the opposite. I had a long apprenticeship and decades of disappointment and rejection, like many authors. When finally I found my author voice, by accident, I would add, my confidence grew. I believed in myself. There was still a way to go, along with help from those who had made it already, but I made it.

Yes, you’ve guessed it – I didn’t believe it.

Not at first anyway. A publisher wanted my first novel.

Okay, it was not my first novel. It was about my tenth, I think. It was the first Kent Fisher novel in a series. Being the maverick I am in my imagination, I wrote the second Kent Fisher novel first. Then I wrote a prequel to explain a lot of what happens in the second story.

See, that’s how much I knew about novel writing.

So, I had a publisher who wanted my novel. Would you believe me if I said it was nowhere near ready, being too long, ponderous and unfinished? When I say unfinished, the story had a climax and a resolution. An exciting climax, if I say so myself. That I knew.

Unfortunately, as a classic whodunit, it lacked one small key feature – my hero, Kent Fisher, couldn’t solve the murder.

Can you believe it?

I couldn’t. I knew who the murderer was and why. I wrote the story, after all.

I couldn’t work out how he could unearth the clues that would allow him to solve the murder. In many ways, it was the perfect murder. That’s what I set out to write. I never expected it to defeat me.

So, what did I do?

Did I own up to the publisher? Of course not. He’d offered me a contract.

I asked for six months to ‘knock the story into shape’, hoping he wouldn’t lose interest. He didn’t and I managed to find the clues to solve the murder.

It’s surprising how the lure of a publishing contract can sharpen the mind.

When it was finally published on Amazon, I still struggled to believe it. I knew it was my book, yet it seemed to belong to someone else.

No Accident

It was the same with my first talk to promote the book. I was sitting in front of a reasonable gathering, all waiting to hear about my journey. My journey was one of struggle, lack of self-belief and more failures than I wanted to think about.

I never thought anyone would be interested. I was surprised to find people were. Worse than that, they proceeded to ask me questions I’d never considered before.

How do you create your characters?

Where do you get your ideas?

Did you always want to write crime fiction?

Honestly, I’d never considered any of these questions before. I didn’t think anyone would be interested in such details, even though I’d asked similar questions to authors at events. The trouble is, when you’re an aspiring author talking to a successful one, you’re hoping for the magic bullet that will transform you into the next Stephen King. In my case I wanted to be a modern Agatha Christie, but you know what I mean.

Agatha Christie

I quickly learned that you can’t answer, ‘I don’t know’ to every question until someone asks you something you can answer. Equally, you can spend too long thinking about an answer. Readers believe you’re an expert now you’re published.

Sorry to disappoint you, but some days I struggle to believe I’ve written five Kent Fisher murder mysteries. I’m better at answering questions, having been interviewed a few times. I’ve had the time to work out the answers.

Of course, there’s a whole raft of new questions to replace those I can answer.

‘How do I get more people to buy and read my books?’

How can I convince them I’m a modern Agatha Christie when no one’s heard of me?

If you know the answers, please let me know.

Friday Feedback- 29th November 2019

There’s not much to report as I’ve spent this week fitting new doors inside the house. However, Wednesday turned out to be interesting.

Carol finished reading No Mercy on Wednesday morning. “Loved it,” she said. “Even better than the last one.”

Around lunchtime, my editor, Liz, emailed me her report on the novel. “It’s a cracker!” she said. “Not much to adjust.”

Not bad, I thought, before picking up the mallet and chisel. I can move on with the final edit and proof reading this coming week and get the book ready for pre-order and publication. I’m hoping the cover should be available soon, so it’s all coming together.

I’m also looking to relaunch my Robservations blog soon, prompted by Agatha Christie, no less. I’m currently reading and loving The 4.50 from Paddington, one of Miss Marple’s adventures. It’s interesting to see how the BBC and ITV have tinkered with the story for television. I’m not sure why they did as the story’s excellent. I also began to realise what I’d learned from her over the years.

 

 

Friday Feedback – 22nd November 2019

This is the updated Saturday version, delayed in the spirit of Brexit.

Like most the weeks this month, it’s been non-stop editing to ensure No Mercy, the fifth Kent Fisher murder mystery, is as good as I can make it. It’s now in the hands of my editor, Liz, for an objective evaluation. I’m working with my cover designer at the moment and hope to bring you a preview of the finished result before too long.

The story starts at the point No More Lies finished and will take readers deeper into the lives of Kent and some of those close to him, with some surprising revelations. Alongside the murders, the plot has a strong environmental health thread to it, which includes the restaurateur from hell.

No Mercy will be available on Amazon from Thursday, 16th January 2020, and it should be available for preorder before Christmas.

Dead If You Don’t by Peter James

9th October 2019.   4 stars.

When you read a Roy Grace novel, you’re guaranteed an intriguing plot with many strands and some neat twists to wrong foot you. This one also incorporates a change of pace as the kidnap of a boy brings time pressures that crank up the tension and work rate of the police.

I enjoy the detail of the police procedures and the way the author brings mundane, but essential legwork to life. The characters too are carefully crafted and believable, especially the bad guys who are particularly menacing. The story moved between the various bad guys, the victims and the police, keeping the tension high as time began to run out for the kidnap victim, leading to an exciting climax with Grace risking his life once more.

While all the author’s trademarks are present in the story, the change of pace affected the balance between the investigation and the backstory. The short time span meant there was little room for the running backstory of Grace’s family life, which was a bit of a shame. However, his ongoing battle with his boss, Cassian Pewe, reached new and enjoyable heights.

Highly recommended.

Description

Kipp Brown, successful businessman and compulsive gambler, is having the worst run of luck of his life. He’s beginning to lose big style. However, taking his teenage son, Mungo, to their club’s big Saturday afternoon football match should have given him a welcome respite, if only for a few hours. But it’s at the stadium where his nightmare begins.

Within minutes of arriving at the game, Kipp bumps into a client. He takes his eye of Mungo for a few moments, and in that time, the boy is gone. Then he gets the terrifying message that someone has his child, and to get him back alive, Kipp will have to pay.

Defying instruction not to contact the police, Kipp reluctantly does just that, and Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is brought into investigate. At first it seems a straightforward case of kidnap. But rapidly Grace finds himself entering a dark, criminal underbelly of the city, where the rules are different and nothing is what it seems . . .

Dead if you Don't

Need You Dead by Peter James

26th September 2019.  5 stars.

I’ve enjoyed every novel in the Roy Grace series. With an imaginative and complex plot, fascinating insights into police procedure and a few surprises as the story hurtles towards the climax, Need You Dead continues the consistent high standard of stroytelling I’ve come to expect from Peter James.

So, who killed Lorna Belling?

With suspects starting to form an orderly queue, this is not going to be a simple case for Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, who has problems of his own to overcome. While Grace finally puts the mystery of his ex-wife, Sandy, to bed, it’s only the start of more demanding challenges. With Assistant Chief Constable Pewe watching his every move, the pressure on Grace leads to more than a few sleepless nights.

With several suspects and an intricate plot that makes them all potential killers, the story kept me guessing right up to the breathtaking climax, delivering an unexpected, but satisfying twist I didn’t see coming.

This is quality writing, populated with strong, believable characters, delivered with pace and panache to provide yet another exciting instalment in the Roy Grace series. While all the novels work as standalones, reading the series from the start means each book delivers much more.

I would recommend this series to anyone as Peter James always delivers memorable, top quality crime fiction.

 

Description

Lorna Belling, desperate to escape the marriage from hell, falls for the charms of another man who promises her the earth. But, as Lorna finds, life seldom follows the plans you’ve made. A chance photograph on a client’s mobile phone changes everything for her.

When the body of a woman is found in a bath in Brighton, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is called to the scene. At first it looks an open and shut case with a clear prime suspect. Then other scenarios begin to present themselves, each of them tantalizingly plausible, until, in a sudden turn of events, and to his utter disbelief, the case turns more sinister than Grace could ever have imagined.

Need You Dead