Peter James: Working as a binman, visiting Little Fish Market and The Perfect Murder in theatre
PUBLISHED: 11:49 08 March 2016 | UPDATED: 11:49 08 March 2016
Bestselling crime writer Peter James talks us through his gastronomic adventures and keeps us abreast of everything relating to his fictional detective, Roy Grace
I’m often asked by journalists and by fans if I worry about giving people ideas about ways to commit murder – and other crimes – from the pages of my Roy Grace novels. The short answer is that I sincerely hope I do not. But the longer, more serious answer is I believe the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction. Many of my novels, such as Dead Like You, where a rapist took his victims’ shoes – directly inspired by the true life case of the Rotherham Shoe-Rapist – have drawn from the dark side of human life. Although very occasionally a killer admits to being inspired by the gruesome images of a horror film, I don’t think many people planning to commit a murder will turn to the pages of a crime novel as part of their planning.
And yet I do seem to be something of a magnet for crime. For example a couple of years ago I spent a day as a Brighton binman – I actually qualified as an operator/loader as part of my research! I wanted to write a scene in which a team on a refuse truck find a body. We were up in a residential area near Brighton Racecourse, when turning into a street we found it was full of police vehicles and one of the houses sealed off as a crime scene. The driver turned to me with a grin and said in 25 years on the job he’d never encountered a crime scene before! As an aside it is a mightily hard job – back-breaking physical work, horrendous stenches – I came away with a lot of respect for them.
Last year was a memorable one for me. In the summer I married Lara in the blissful setting of Jeremy’s at Borde Hill, and later we had a huge Mexican-themed Day Of The Dead party at my Sussex home. Then in the run up to Christmas, the paperback of my 11th Roy Grace novel, You Are Dead, was number one for five weeks – my personal best! My next, Love You Dead, comes out in May.
I’ve eaten some glorious meals in the past month, both locally and further afield. I’ve had two return visits to one of my perennial London favourites, The River Café: modern Italian cooking, a sensational Italian wine collection, and one of the most glorious and welcoming modern dining rooms I know – well, it should be, it was designed by co-founder Ruth Rogers’ husband, Lord Rogers, architect of both the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Lloyds building in London. By sheer coincidence I was invited by fellow racing driver and CEO of Intercontinental Hotels to his flagship restaurant, the eponymous Theo Randall, the following night. Charming Theo was formerly the Head Chef at River Café. A dish of white crabmeat was delicately flavoured to bring out the taste of the crab rather than mug it, and Venetian liver was done to perfection.
On the next day, it was on to yet another chef branching out in an institution. This time Marcus Wareing’s Gilbert Scott in the grand old dame, St Pancras Station. It has very much an old-school feel, but with a modern take on classic English dishes, such as pigeon and pistachio terrine, Cornish crab with kohlrabi and cashews, roasted halibut, rabbit and prawn pie. It was followed by lunch with Josh Andrews, co-producer of my plays, to discuss the forthcoming production of The Perfect Murder. Josh chose the Holborn Dining Room, coincidentally in another grand old dame of a building – formerly the dreary, tired Chancery Hotel – now totally revamped in great style as the Rosewood Hotel. Founded by some of the Ivy Club team, this Belle Époque style all-day brasserie is the first serious rival to the glorious Wolseley I’ve been to, combining buzzing atmosphere and simple food with an emphasis on fish and seafood.
Back in Sussex I’d heard raves about Hove’s Little Fish Market. It’s a tiny, intimate place, with just one chef, the proprietor Duncan Ray, formerly from Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck, and one waiter. Ten of us had a five-course set meal. A large group always tests any kitchen and Ray coped magnificently, with all courses profoundly inventive. The main, turbot with celeriac, potato fondant and mushroom was sublime to look at and even better to taste and dessert was an awesome pear tarte tatin. The one curiosity was the starter, a plain whole and ungarnished lemon slip sole. Unlike Blumenthal’s extravagant presentation, this fish looked like a main course where the veg had been forgotten. But I actually really liked it – and it’s not a fish I normally care for.
After seeing the brilliant Rocky Horror Show we trooped into Norman Cook’s Japanese restaurant, Oki-Nami, right next door to Brighton Theatre Royal. It was sensational. Terrific cocktails, lovely staff and brilliant tapas – the best prawns tempura, tuna carpaccio and seared beef I’ve eaten in a long while; for mains we shared faultless salmon teriyaki and a char-grilled tuna that was not far behind.
We’ve already booked to go back there in early March, when the play of my black comedy novella, The Perfect Murder, returns to the Theatre Royal 7-13 March, starring the brilliant and lovely Shane Richie and Jessie Wallace. Go and see it: you’ll have a dead good time…!
Peter James’ The Perfect Murder returns to Sussex, co-starring Shane Richie and Jessie Wallace, for a week’s run at the Theatre Royal, Brighton starting 7 March. His third ever novel, Billionaire, has just been republished after 30 years out of print. And his next Roy Grace novel, Love You Dead, will be published on 19 May.
He donates his fee for this column to his charitable foundation supporting Sussex charities and this month’s fee will be given to Relate, Sussex.
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