måndag 12 mars 2012

Gästbloggare: Peter James

Bokboxen proudly presents: Vår första utrikiska gästbloggare, brittiska kriminalförfattaren Peter James (han står också för Bokboxens, utan konkurrens, hittills längsta text). I dag publicerar vi det första inlägget i den trestegsraket av Peter James-texter som kommer att leda fram till släppet av Den enes död i april. Mina damer och herrar...

For me, research is as important an element in writing my novels as character and plot. I view each of these elements as an inseparable trinity. Each of my Roy Grace novels has its genesis in a true story or in research facts – as indeed do all of my previous novels.

Dead Simple (Levande begravd), for instance, came out of my fascination with Edgar Allan Poe as a child, and the terrifying notion of premature burial – and the research I did into whether such a thing as unintentional premature burial can happen today. Looking Good Dead (Ett snyggt lik) was triggered by a phone call I received ten years ago from a police surgeon, who asked me, with my film-maker’s hat, to analyse film footage, seized by Sussex Police, of a young girl being knifed to death. They wanted to know if I thought the girl was acting, or if it was real – a snuff movie. Not Dead Enough (Långt ifrån död) came out of my learning that identity theft has overtaken drug dealing as the fastest growing crime in the western world. The genesis for Dead Man’s Footsteps (Död mans fotspår), in which a man uses the nightmare of 9-11 to fake his disappearance, was a visit I made to a Police open day at the Missing Person’s Helpline, where I learned that 230,000 people are reported missing every year in the UK, and of those, 11,500 will never be seen again. And the spark for Dead Tomorrow (Den enes död) came from a chance conversation at a dinner party, back in 1998.

The central story of Dead Tomorrow is a single mother, Lynn Beckett, whose 15 year old daughter, Caitlin, is suffering liver failure. Unless she gets a transplant within weeks she will not survive. Knowing the true fact that 3 people die every day in the UK waiting for a transplant, Lynn panics that the system will let her daughter down and goes on the internet– and discovers a German organ broker who can obtain a liver for her – but at a terrible financial and human price.

At this dinner I was seated next to multi-award winning documentary film maker Kate Blewett – best known for the harrowing The Dying Rooms, who asked me how much I thought I (my body) was worth as a soup of chemicals. I told her I had no idea and she replied, "About 50p". Then she asked how much I thought I was worth in body parts as a reasonably healthy human being – and stunned me by telling me the black market price for a healthy teenage or adult human is around $1 000 000. You can get up to $400 000 for your liver, the same again for your heart-lungs, $60 000 for each kidney, then your skin, eyes, bones, and a few other bits and pieces…. The reason being there is a world shortage of human organs, caused by improvements in transplant techniques, a reluctance for people to donate, and most ironic off all, by more people wearing car seat belts – which means they don’t die of head injuries so much any more, leaving their bodies – and internal organs – intact. As a result, three people die every day in the UK, waiting for a transplant. Around 20% of people on the liver transplant waiting lists will die before they get one – in the USA the figure is as high as 90%.

In the past decade a huge international market for human organs has evolved. In some countries it is illegal in others, it openly goes on. China has been steadily lowering the threshold of the death penalty for several years running, executing prisoners with a single head-shot and selling their bodies to Taiwan. Manilla in the Philippines is now known as One Kidney Island. You can go there for an all-inclusive price of about £50 000, and get a kidney transplant. In India, in some castes, women routinely sell one kidney before they get married, for their dowry, and are joyfully happy with the $250 they receive. In Columbia, the mafia are making more money out of human organ trafficking in some parts of the country, than from drugs.

As a true example of the illicit trade, in 1990, eminent British kidney transplant surgeon, Dr Raymond Crockett, who I have interviewed, was struck off the medical register for nine years for illegally buying kidneys, for UK patients, from four students in Turkey.

I was told a terrible story by a human rights worker in Colombia. It was about an eight-year-old street kid called Juanita who was begging outside El Dorado Airport in Bogota. She was arrested by the police and handed to a care agency. From there she was put in an orphanage, a beautiful home in the country, with other kids her age. When she was fourteen, the parents of a teenage girl in the USA, desperate for a liver, paid the Columbian mafia $450,000. Juanita, who was a match, was killed and all her organs were harvested. I am sure you are think that as I write fiction, that story was fiction. But sadly it wasn’t, it was true… And I used elements of it in Dead Tomorrow.

Much closer to home, I visited Romania on a research trip for Dead Tomorrow. Romania has some of the most vulnerable people in the world living in it, an inept and utterly inadequate social welfare system, corrupt politicians and a corrupt police force. And – just five years ago – we welcomed this country into the EEC.

Thanks to the legacy of Nickolai Caucescau, the despotic dictator who came to power in 1965 and was eventually, mercifully, shot in 1989, there are an estimated 10,000 people, many of them kids, living rough on the streets of Romania, mostly in Bucharest – and about the same amount of stray dogs. These children are known as “Children of the Decree.”

When Caucescau came to power, he had a vision of building Romania into the greatest industrial nation in the western world. To do that he needed to rapidly increase the population, and to this end he made it compulsory for all girls, from the age of 14, to have a pregnancy test at their doctor’s once a month. If they were pregnant, they were not allowed to abort. The result was thousands of unwanted children who ended up in care homes – grim, government institutions, from which many then ran away.

I was fortunate to meet a truly good man in Romania – a former UK police officer called Ian Tilling, who was recently awarded an MBE for his services to Romania’s homeless. Seventeen years ago, whilst serving hin Kent, his son was killed in a motorcycle accident, and his life fell apart. He decided to have a complete change and went to Romania to see how he could help the plight of street kids there. Shortly after his arrival, he was offered a visit of a state institution for homeless crippled children. Any kind of deformity was frowned upon in old Romania. He told me how he had decided to buy a sackload of toys to take to the kids. When he arrived he was shown into a dormitory containing forty children, aged between eight and eleven, each of them in a cage – which, he was told, was to stop them from stealing each other’s food. One solitary matron presided over the room, Rosa Klebb’s double, seated at a table, reading magazines all day long.

Ian handed out the toys, and then saw the children staring blankly at them. They didn’t know what to do with them. No one had ever taught them how to play.
One of Caucescau’s legacy’s is a communal central heating steam pipe, a network of which scans the length and breadth of Bucharest. In the city centre it is underground, but in the suburb it runs for kilometres above ground. Every office, house and apartment in Bucharest used to get its heat from tributaries of this pipe, and some still do. The heating is switched on in autumn and off in spring. For most of the street kids, it is a lifeline. They live along side it, either in shanties built along the pipeline, or in holes beneath the roads, where the pipe is underground, getting warmth from it. They beg, they sell second hand newspapers, they steal, and they sniff metallic paint, called Aurelac, not because it gives them a high, but because it takes away their constant hunger pangs.

I went with my publisher at midnight one night to Bucharest’s main railway station, Gara du Nord, where a lot of street kids hang out. We bought armfuls of chocolate and biscuits and approached one group. My publisher asked them if they would speak to me, telling them I was an English writer. They were delightful. One teenage couple was holding a baby, and all of them told me that they were brutalized by the police, slept rough, were desperate to get out. Several of the girls said they had heard there were people who could find them good jobs in England, working in bars, nightclubs, restaurants, hotels. But that is not where they will end up.

The lucky ones will find themselves “debt bonded” - which means arriving in a country such as the UK already £10k in debt to their kindly trafficker. They will be put to work in a brothel until they have paid this off, except of course they will never pay it off because their handler will get them hooked on drugs, and they will just be on a permanent downward spiral. I say “lucky” ones, because a worse fate awaits the unlucky ones – who will find themselves unwitting organ donors. Some will lose just one kidney; others will lose their lives.

Ian Tilling runs a hostel, which provides a temporary home for 50 people. I talked to one of his residents, Andreea, who was dumped in a home by her mother at the age of eight, and lived on the streets for the next fifteen years. She has been raped, given birth and had the child taken from her. When I met her she told me she had just been talking to a friend, who was going to introduce her to someone who could get her out of Bucharest, and to London, where she could a highly paid job as a waitress and a really nice flat. A nice dream. She’ll be arriving soon, debt-bonded, to a trafficker near you….

But of course for each novel, it is not just the lives of my villains and victims that I research, keeping current with the police and getting the correct police procedures right is absolutely crucial. Early in Dead Tomorrow, a dredger hauls up the body of a recently dead teenager from the seabed, just off the coast of Brighton. I needed to understand how a dredger works, and what it does, so I spent a day at sea on a working one, off Shoreham. Then I needed to understand what the police would do in this instance, and was told a Police dive team – the Specialist Search Unit - would go out and search the seabed for clues. The SSU kindly took me out to sea on a training exercise – and there I learned too much information…!!! I always had a romantic notion that being a police diver must be a great gig – you get to swan around in scuba gear, getting paid to do what you love. Wrong!

It was explained to me that the police almost always dive in zero visibility – in muddy canals full of barbed wire and rusting supermarket trolleys and jagged metal, or in sewers, or in weed-strewn lakes, or the bottom of the English Channel which is always churned up. Their procedure is to drop a weighted line down to the sea bed, then connected to the surface by a voice line and air line, they sink down, carrying a 200 metre cable over their shoulders, with a weight on each end of it – this is called a “jackstay”. They then lay it out in a straight line on the sea or river bed, and swim back, holding the line in one hand and sweeping in the pitch darkness with the other. If they find nothing, they move the weights a foot to the right or left, gridding out the bed. When they find a body, under their strict procedures, they have to hug it, in case a current carries it away, and radio to the surface for a colleague to descend with an airbag to raise it to the surface. They will have no way of knowing whether this body has been there for days, or weeks or months, and it is likely to be crawling with crabs. Small wonder that several police officers I’ve talked to, who have recovered bodies from the sea, have been put off eating shellfish for life. Respect!

Peter James är författare och filmproducent. Han bor i Brighton, liksom Roy Grace. I England i år har han toppat flera försäljningslistor (både för inbundna böcker, pocketböcker samt e-böcker). Han har nominerats till flera prestigefulla priser och vunnit ett av dem: The Quick Reads Reader’s Favourite Award.

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