Latest Peter James enters murky world of jury nobbling
The pandemic has meant that publication is a couple of months later than planned. Even so, there’s still something very reassuring about the sight of the new Roy Grace novel hitting the bookshelves – just as Roy Grace books have done, one a year, since 2005.
Find Them Dead is the 16th outing for Peter James’ Brighton-based detective. And while the publication delay has been frustrating, Peter admits there have been elements of the lockdown he has rather enjoyed.
“For the first time in my life, I have not been jumping into airplanes every ten days; I am ahead of schedule with my next book; I have been spending more time at home; and I have got into cooking. I have always cooked, but my repertoire has always been a bit limited. But now I have had the chance to try new things.”
Peter suspects he will be carrying some of the lockdown changes with him into our new normal – whenever that emerges. “I very definitely am not going to be travelling as much. Show me things I can do by Zoom and email, and I will be doing them!”
In the meantime, there’s the new Roy Grace for us all to relish, Find Them Dead with its new publication date of July 9.
It’s a book which breaks new ground in the longrunning series. Much of it, for the first time, is set in a court room. “I guess you tend to forget that for the police and in particular someone like Roy Grace, arresting a suspect is certainly not the end of the story. In some ways, it is almost the beginning. Almost harder than bringing the suspect to trial is having the evidence that is needed for the trial if you are going to convict.”
Key to proceedings, of course, is the jury: “I did jury service some years ago, and I found the experience…well, scary is the wrong word.
But I found it surprising and I found it surprising in a number of ways. The first thing is this overwhelming sense of power you have as a juror. It is almost like you are watching a play except that you are actually part of the play, and you are part of a decision that will change a person’s life very seriously. You convict someone of armed robbery or assault or whatever, and you are going to destroy their life and the lives of their loved ones. If you acquit them, of course, you impact on their lives in a very different way.”
The fact you are just one of 12 on the jury isn’t necessarily a comfort. Peter knows of someone who overheard a fellow juror say ‘Well, he’s obviously guilty because he is a homosexual’ on the first morning of a trial.
“I also heard comments from my fellow jurors of prejudice that utterly floored me.”
But the other point – key to the book – is that jurors are also incredibly vulnerable: “They don’t have any protection. If you wanted to nobble a juror, it would not be difficult.”
In the book, Meg Magellan finally has her life back together, five years after the car crash that killed her husband and their son. Her daughter, Laura, now 18, is on her gap year travelling in South America with a friend, and Meg misses her badly. Laura is all she has in the world.
In between jobs, Meg receives a summons for jury service. She’s excited – it might be interesting and will help distract her from constantly worrying about Laura. But when she is selected for the trial of a major Brighton drugs overlord, everything changes. Just a few days into jury service, Meg arrives home to find a photograph of Laura, in Ecuador, lying on her kitchen table. Then her phone rings. A sinister, threatening stranger is on the line. He tells her that if she ever wants to see Laura alive again, it is very simple. At the end of the trial, all she has to do is make sure the jury says just two words ... Not guilty.