"Following" takes a sinister turn in Peter James’s dark new psychological thriller

The starting point for Peter James’s dark new psychological thriller was his wife’s rather chilling experience of running on Sussex country lanes.

Peter James
Peter James

As Peter, creator of the Brighton-based Roy Grace detective series, explains: “My wife Lara is a very experienced marathon runner. She has done 14 marathons and she runs pretty much every day, and she started using this app called Strava which is an app that plots your route, distances, times and all kinds of other data.

“And you can also look at segments that other runners have done. You can look at male and female and age groups. It’s really useful.

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“We were in Sussex about three years ago and one evening she was running in the semi-darkness down country lanes and a couple of woodland tracks. She passed a male runner coming the other way, and runners are friendly people. She said hi and he said hi, and the next day her phone pinged. She said that this guy was now following her, and over the course of the next couple of weeks, she noticed that he had started running the same routes as her. Every route she invented, he would start running. She thought it was quite scary. He knew where she was, where she lived, the times she ran.”

She changed her privacy settings for a while.

“And then when we got our place in Jersey, exactly the same thing happened. She saw another runner and came home and about 10pm her phone pinged, and this guy was following her. And he started taking the same routes she was using.”

An idea for a book started to take shape in Peter’s mind, the book which comes out on October 1 as the stand-alone thriller I Follow You.

To the outside world, suave, charming and confident doctor Marcus Valentine has it all. A loving wife, three kids, a great job. But there’s something missing, there always has been. . . . or rather, someone . . .

Driving to work one morning, his mind elsewhere and not on the road, he almost mows down a female jogger on a crossing. As she runs on, Marcus is transfixed. Infatuated. She is the spitting image of a girl he was crazy about in his teens. A girl he has never been able to get out of his mind.

Despite all his attempts to resist, he is consumed by cravings for this woman and so he starts to follow her…

For Peter, it was quickly clear that this wasn’t to be a Roy Grace book based in Brighton: “I wanted the focus for this one to be on the gynaecologist and on his target Georgie. A Roy Grace book has got to be about Roy Grace. I wanted this to be a really strong psychological thriller. I wanted the focus to be on Valentine’s obsession…”

Part of the fascination, of course, is that Valentine has taken an oath, the first rule of which is to do no harm: “But I have known a lot of doctors over the years, and if you talk to most people in the medical world, they will tell you that the senior consultants can be the really arrogant ones. They are playing god. A lot of them have massive egos… and I loved the thought that he has lost sight of his Hippocratic oath to do no harm. The exciting challenge for me is that he is at the start this outwardly highly-respected, much-loved consultant gynaecologist… who then throws this oath aside because of his obsession.

“He is not inherently evil. He has suffered neglect and abuse, and he has got a warped sense of right and wrong from his childhood. But the obsession takes hold.”

Peter counts himself incredibly lucky with the research for the book which he set on Jersey where he lives, while retaining for the moment a home near Henfield.

“In one of my early books, I shadowed an anaesthetist, but now it would take months to get permission, but Jersey is a little bit more relaxed, and Jersey has got a very good hospital.”

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