Mystery solved - the story of Sandy, detective Roy Grace's missing wife

A massive treat is looming for Roy Grace fans as Peter James prepares to reveal what really happened to the Brighton-based detective’s missing wife Sandy – a mystery which enthralled millions of readers across the first dozen or so books in the series.
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They Thought I Was Dead: Sandy's Story will be published in hardcover on May 9. It tantalises: “My name is Sandy. My husband is Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. But when I disappeared, even he couldn't find me… This is my story.”

It’s a book Peter could never have imagined himself writing when he first started writing the Grace books which have since become a hugely popular TV series: “Back in 2002 my publisher asked me through my agent if I would consider writing a crime thriller with a detective as a central character. They offered me a two-book contract. I'd never written a specific crime series before. I'd written psychological and supernatural thrillers but I'd met this detective Dave Gaylor who went on to rise to Detective Superintendent and I said to him ‘Do you fancy being a fictional detective?’ He became my model and we have worked together ever since on the series.

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“I really thought about it when I was creating Roy Grace and I thought about all the great fictional detectives around at the time and in the past and it seemed to me that many of them were very much a cliche. You had all these detectives with drink problems and broken marriages, and the reality is that no policeman with a drink problem would last 24 hours in the police. I thought about the broken marriage element and it's a good shortcut for getting sympathy but I decided I wanted to do something more than that. So I started thinking what does a detective do? They solve puzzles. I thought wouldn't it be interesting to create a detective with a personal puzzle of his own that he is not able to solve.

Peter James (pic by Helen Maybanks)Peter James (pic by Helen Maybanks)
Peter James (pic by Helen Maybanks)

“200,000 people a year are reported missing. If they don't turn up in four days the chances are that they won't ever turn up again and if it gets to 30 days, they are just gone. And for the people that are the left behind, they're just left in limbo. There's no closure. They can't move on. They are always wondering what if their loved one walks back in suddenly. I just thought that that would be a really interesting challenge for a successful detective. I gave Roy Grace his missing wife Sandy. He's coming up for his 39th birthday in the first book and we learn that nine years before, he came home and she was gone. For nine years he's been trying to find her.”

Now at last in They Thought I Was Dead: Sandy's Story we will find out what happened. In the book, we find Sandy reflecting on the Roy’s response to her disappearance as a “smart detective” and her thoughts on what he will do. Then she utters the chilling lines: “He is going to find it hard to track me down for one simple reason. I no longer exist.”

Peter recalls: “I thought I would set it up in the first Grace book and then I would resolve it in the second but Dead Simple came out and we were literally inundated with emails and letters from people speculating about what had happened to Sandy. I started to think that I could have some fun with this. Part of writing is about teasing your readers. Readers love to be teased so long as you are doing it in a fair and honest way and I just thought I would keep it going. I think it was about book 15 when I decided that maybe I had run with the tease long enough and it was time to bring it to a conclusion which I did. But a lot of people then contacted me wanting to know what had happened to Sandy in the intervening years. So I thought it would be a fun challenge to write it. I was going to write a novella but I started work on it and it felt like I knew her so well that it just took on a life of its own.”

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And it's a book which will feature what Peter describes as one of his favourite twists at the end: “It is brilliantly simple but it turns everything everyone thought on its head. People have really hated her and the fact is that she is not the best person in the world but I do think the book will make people feel more sympathetic.”