James, Peter 1948–
James, Peter 1948–
(Peter John James)
Born August 22, 1948, in Brighton, Sussex, England; son of John Burnett and Cornelia (a glove maker to the Queen) James; married, 1979; wife's name Georgina Valerie (a solicitor); divorced 1999. Education: Attended Ravensbourne Film School. Hobbies and other interests: Classic and modern motor cars, racing, aircraft, science, medicine, the paranormal, skiing, tennis, golf, wine, running.
Home—Sussex, England. Agent—Michael Siegel, Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212-1825; Carole Blake, Blake Friedmann, 122 Arlington Rd., London NW1 7HP, England. E-mail—[email protected]
Film producer and writer. During early career, worked as an assistant on the program Brighton Evening Argus, and as cleaning person at the home of Orson Welles; Polka Dot Door (children's television program), Canada, writer, 1970; Quadrant Films, director and film producer, 1972-77; Yellowbill Ltd., direc- tor, 1977-85; Ministry of Vision (film and television development company), cofounder, 1997—; Movision Entertainment Limited, cofounder and producer, 2001—, managing director, 2001-04; founder, Pavilion Internet PLC (Internet and e-mail service provider), 1993-98. Producer of films, including Dead of Night, 1973; Spanish Fly, 1976; Biggles, 1985; Five Moon Square, 2002; Jericho Mansions, 2002; A Different Loyalty, 2003; Head in the Clouds, 2003; The Bridge of San Luis Rey, 2003; The Statement, 2003; The Last Sign, 2003; The Merchant of Venice, 2004; Bailey's Billions, 2004; The River King, 2004; and Perfect Creatures, 2004.
Society of Authors, Society for Psychical Research, Hypnotherapy Society (fellow emeritus), Freeman City of London, Liveryman Worshipful Company of Glovers.
Charterhouse School Poetry Prize, 1967; Best Foreign Film Award, Sitges International Horror Film Festival, 1974, for Dead of Night; Krimi-Blitz Award, 2005, for Dead Simple; Le Prix Polar International Award, 2006, for Comme une tombe; Le Priz Coeur Noir Literary Prize, Sant-Quentin-en-Yvelines festival, 2007, for Comme une tombe.
Biggles: The Untold Story, 1986.
TechnoTerrors (juvenile fiction), Gollancz (London, England), 1996.
Horror Hospital CD, Epic, 1997.
Dead Letter Drop, W.H. Allen (London, England), 1980.
Atom Bomb Angel, W.H. Allen (London, England), 1981.
Billionaire, W.H. Allen (London, England), 1982.
Travelling Man, W.H. Allen (London, England), 1984.
Possession, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1988.
Dreamer, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1989.
Sweet Heart, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1990.
Twilight, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1991.
Prophecy, Gollancz (London, England), 1992.
Host, Gollancz (London, England), 1993, Villard (New York, NY), 1995.
Alchemist, Gollancz (London, England), 1996.
Denial, Orion (London, England), 1998.
Faith, Orion (London, England), 2000.
"DETECTIVE SUPERINTENDENT ROY GRACE" SERIES
Dead Simple, Macmillan (London, England), 2005.
Looking Good Dead, Macmillan (London, England), 2005.
Not Dead Enough, Macmillan (London, England), 2005.
Dead Simple was translated as Comme une tombe.
Prophecy was adapted as a television movie, Yorkshire Television, 1995.
Peter James, who sold his shares at Quadrant Films in 1979 to focus on writing novels, has since become one of Britain's more prolific writers of thrillers. Like many contemporary mystery writers, James is intrigued by scientific and medical breakthroughs and innovations and the possible effects they may have on the individual and on society as a whole. His plots turn on psychic intervention, dreams, unlikely coincidences, and medical experiments gone horribly awry.
James's first novel to be published in the United States, Possession, tells the story of a woman whose twenty-year-old son, killed in an automobile accident at the outset of the novel, is trying to make contact with her. Alex Hightower, the boy's mother, makes some terrifying discoveries about her son before the climax of a tale which, according to a Kirkus Reviews critic, "milked every cliche of the classic ghost story." The same critic called James's next book, Dreamer, a "slick, traditional horror," but it is "still fair entertainment." In this work, a harried woman begins to have nightmares stemming from an attack in childhood by a hooded man. All of her dreams, whether of an airplane crash or a murder, are premonitions of disastrous events that become a reality. As the protagonist's family troubles increase, so does the intensity of her nightmares and the worry that the childhood attacker may be back to finish what he started long ago. Marylaine Block, writing for Library Journal, called Dreamer "a very unsettling novel."
Another novel, Sweet Heart, also delves into the distant past of one of its main characters, a past that even she had forgotten. When a young London couple moves out into the country in hopes that a change from the hustle and bustle of city life will aid in their conceiving a child, they purchase an old house that begins to seem threatening to the young woman. Undergoing psychological treatments for infertility, she discovers through regression therapy the role the house played in the lives of her dead parents and in her own life as a child. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented that "James uses these therapeutic sessions to chilling narrative effect." Deemed by Library Journal critic A.M.B. Amantia to be a "quietly frightening horror thriller," Sweet Heart again features a heroine found "likeable" by critics and reflects James's fascination with the paranormal and the idea that one can never escape the past.
James combines childhood influences with medical terrors in Twilight. The villain in this thriller is anesthesiologist Harvey Swire, who, attempting to prove the existence of life after death, wields his medical power to invoke clinical death, then brings the patients back to life and interrogates them about their experiences. His fascination is driven by his own near-death experience as a child, which gave him bizarre otherworldly powers that he uses in a diabolical manner. Interfering with his practices is journalist Kate Hemingway, who investigates some of the strange happenings and ends up in direct conflict with the evil Swire. A Publishers Weekly critic praised James for his "attention to detail" and "boldly drawn" characters. A Kirkus Reviews critic believed that the novel is "as silly as they come, with an especially cartoonish villain, but James meshes scalpels and spiritualism nicely, and offers some good scares along the way."
In Prophecy James again delves into the past and unlikely coincidences that continually haunt his characters. This time archeologist Frannie falls in love with a mathematician whose son begins to act rather oddly. As many of the archaeologist's friends and acquaintances encounter strange fates, her family's centuries-old connection to the family of her lover comes to light, revealing the source of the tragedies. Booklist critic Dennis Winters considered "this story of arcane horror amid everyday lives and landscapes" to justify James's consideration as Britain's version of Stephen King.
Host, the first British novel to be published on floppy disk, deals with cryonics, sex, and the myriad of complications arising from each. It could be seen as a modern-day Frankenstein with a twist, which, according to Eric W. Johnson in Library Journal, "explores the downside of scientific breakthrough." A scientist obsessed with his own mortality grieves over the death of his young son and has an affair with a brilliant and beautiful, but terminally ill graduate student who dies following the affair. She is not gone, however; before her death, he helped her load her consciousness into a powerful computer designed to store the contents of a human brain. Once dead, Juliet torments and terrorizes the scientist, eventually inhabiting the body of a deceased model and entering his home as a nanny. "Like Mary Shelley's venerable monster, an ungodly pastiche, but also as gripping and thoughtful as its Promethean predecessor," commented a Kirkus Reviews critic.
James is also the author of a series of police procedurals featuring Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. In Dead Simple, the first Grace novel, a practical joke committed among friends goes terribly wrong. On the even of the wedding of real estate developer Michael Harrison, himself well known for his pranks, a group of friends decide to get him drunk and turn the tables. The elaborate plan places Michael in a coffin; he is then buried alive with a light, breathing tube, bottle of whiskey, and pornographic magazine. A walkie-talkie on the ground above will allow them to communicate. His friends intend to leave him there for a couple of hours and then rescue him, but an automobile accident results in their deaths. Unaware of his friends' fate, Michael pleads for help through the two-way radio, which has been found by Davey, a mentally challenged young man who cannot understand what Michael wants. When Grace becomes involved in the case and Michael's coffin is found and opened, even more shocking surprises await. With this novel, James "affords as smooth and efficient a ride as a Jaguar would along a twisty English lane," remarked Bob Lunn in Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly writer described it as "farfetched but terrifying," while Booklist contributor Connie Fletcher concluded that the book is "achingly well plotted, with suspense that has no letup."
Grace returns in Looking Good Dead. When entrepreneur Tom Bryce discovers an abandoned CD apparently left behind on the train by an odious fellow traveler, he decides to slip the disc into his computer and explore its contents. Curiosity soon turns to shock as he watches a video of the brutal killing of Janie Stretton, a young law student who disappeared and whose murder has put the local Sussex police on a determined chase to find her killer. Soon, Tom finds himself the target of the producers of the grotesque video, who contact him via e-mail and threaten him and his family if he reports what he has found. While Inspector Grace struggles to solve the difficult case, Tom agonizes over his situation, finally deciding to tell the police what he has found. When he does so, the CD producers make good on their treat. Tom becomes deeply embroiled in a struggle to save himself and his family from the predations of a group who seek to turn his murder into another specialized video product for their depraved clientele. "The rapid-fire suspense builds to a terrifying, graphic conclusion," commented a Publishers Weekly writer.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 1, 1994, Dennis Winters, review of Prophecy, p. 1181; October 15, 2005, Connie Fletcher, review of Dead Simple, p. 32.
Books, August, 1989, review of Dreamer, p. 18; September 1993, review of Host, p. 25; February 1996, review of Alchemist, p. 24.
Bookseller, July 15, 2005, Bernie Brokenshire, review of Dead Simple, p. 14; December 16, 2005, "Macmillan Breathes Life into James," p. 15.
Entertainment Weekly, December 15, 1995, Gene Lyons, review of Host, p. 65; March 2, 2007, Michelle Kung, review of Looking Good Dead, p. 72.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 1990, review of Dreamer, p. 676; January 1, 1993, review of Twilight, p. 13; February 1, 1994, review of Prophecy, p. 88; September 15, 1995, review of Host, p. 1301; November 15, 2005, review of Dead Simple, p. 1205; January 15, 2007, review of Looking Good Dead, p. 53.
Library Journal, June 1, 1990, Marylaine Block, review of Dreamer, p. 178; November 1, 1991, A.M.B. Amantia, review of Sweet Heart, p. 132; February 15, 1993, Marylaine Block, review of Twilight, p. 192; October 1, 1995, Eric W. Johnson, review of Host, p. 120; November 1, 2005, Bob Lunn, review of Dead Simple, p. 64.
Locus, March 1990, review of Dreamer, p. 17; October 1990, review of Dreamer, p. 52; April 1991, review of Dreamer, p. 42; April 1993, review of Twilight, p. 48; April 1994, review of Prophecy, p. 48.
New Statesman & Society, December 16, 1994, review of Host, p. 72.
Observer (London, England), July 26, 1981, review of Dead Letter Drop, p. 29; November 13, 1994, review of Host, p. 19.
Publishers Weekly, August 12, 1988, Sybil Steinberg, review of Possession, p. 441; October 4, 1991, review of Sweet Heart, p. 78; January 18, 1993, review of Twilight, p. 448; February 14, 1994, review of Prophecy, p. 81; October 9, 1995, review of Host, p. 76; October 10, 2005, review of Dead Simple, p. 33; January 15, 2007, review of Looking Good Dead, p. 34.
Times Educational Supplement, November 11, 1994 review of Host, p. 19.
Voice of Youth Advocates, October, 1993, review of Twilight, p. 228; April, 1994, review of Twilight, p. 19.
Peter James Home Page,http://www.peterjames.com (September 22, 2007).