Given Brighton’s richness, its diversity, its mix of the super wealthy and the super seedy, Peter James was probably always going to be a crime writer.
His city gives him everything he could possibly need and more, as he will explain when he takes to the stage of his home city theatre, Brighton Theatre Royal for An Evening With… on Thursday, February 8 at 7.45pm.
Peter hasn’t used yet the Theatre Royal itself for one of his plots, but he certainly sees its potential: “My parents had regular seats there every Thursday, and I would go along with them. I would watch the curtain rise and I would dream that one day I would be sitting there watching the curtain go up on something I had written!”
It’s an experience he has now enjoyed three times over, with three smash-hit plays adapted from Peter’s novels.
The Perfect Murder came to Brighton in 2014 starring Les Dennis, followed by a second visit in spring 2016, this time with Shane Ritchie and Jessie Wallace. The original run was followed by the play of Dead Simple in 2015, starring Tina Hobley and Jamie Lomas ,which was an equally-big success during its six-month nationwide run. Not Dead Enough, the third of Peter’s books to be translated to stage, toured the UK in 2017, starring Shane Ritchie as Roy Grace and Laura Whitmore as Cleo Morey.
“Really Brighton has got everything for me,” says Peter, creator of the hugely-successful Inspector Roy Grace series. “It has got first and foremost just the sheer physical character of the place, this extraordinary city which is settled between the ocean and the countryside. And also, it is just so steeped in history. But also, I think if I were a criminal, I would be thinking that it was just the perfect place. It has got everything a criminal could want: major ports on either side for smuggling; miles of unguarded coastline; a major airport 25 minutes away, a fast road network, the Channel ports nearby, Eurotunnel.”
It has also got a huge number of antiques shops – a potential channel for stolen goods: “It has also got two big universities and a huge young hip community as well as a massive gay community. It is a party town. It is a great place to live.” And a great place to commit crime. Or at the very least, write about it.
“The three previous chief constables have told me that Brighton is the favourite place for first-division villains.”
For Peter, part of the fascination is the way it has changed: “When I was growing up in the 50s and 60s, it was a tatty, seedy place. When I was at a posh boarding school and people would ask where I was from, if I said Brighton, they would say ‘Oh...’ So instead, I would say that I was from Sussex. But now it is completely the opposite way round. I live near Henfield now, but I always say that I am from Brighton. It has got everything, a large community of actors and painters and writers and musicians... a lot happening.”
But the shadows of its grim past loom large still: “In 1932, Brighton was called the murder capital of the UK, the slaughtering queen of Europe. It has got this fabulous dark pedigree. What happened was that when the railway opened, it opened the way for all the villains from London, which was pretty scuzzy at that time, to come down to Brighton because of the rich pickings there. They just stayed and that was the start of it all, and Brighton has always had that undertone. One historical nugget is that it is the only town in the whole of the UK where the serving chief constable was murdered in office...”