RETIRED Brighton chief superintendent Graham Bartlett and crime novelist Peter James met up with a killer and other former criminals for the new book Death Comes Knocking. RACHEL MILLARD discussed their trip down memory lane...

A SCENE in the new real-life book by former chief superintendent Graham Bartlett and crime novelist Peter James describes the moment two officers finally tracked down the owner of a valuable stolen gem they had found in a prolific criminal's safety deposit box.

Feeling certain they were about to crack a network of notorious antiques burglars, they felt even more confident when they entered the victim's house to see a painting of a woman adorned in the distinctive sapphire known as the Plum.

Yet the "strangely edgy and uncomfortable aristocratic owner" flatly denied it was his, sending the crestfallen detectives on their way with a simple, 'Good day, gentleman'.

"Their world had come crashing down," Mr Bartlett writes. "[...] "They knew, for certain, that they had spoken to the owner of the Plum. But if he would not identify the gem, they could not prove that any theft had taken place.

"The absence of a statement confirming ownership meant the Plum had to be returned to the safety box in which it was found.

"It made them sick that one of their most prolific criminals was going to get a massive payday."

It is one of many moments in the book that draw out the mixture of frustration, pain, fear, anger and satisfaction faced by Mr Bartlett and his colleagues in the force over decades of policing.

Having joined on one snowy morning in February 1983 with a single-minded ambition for the job, Mr Bartlett retired in 2013 having served in every rank in Brighton

He and Mr James met during the author's intensive research for his best-selling Detective Roy Grace novels, and they decided to combine their expertise to tell some of the real-life background to the novels.

"The first few chapters I really struggled with trying to find my voice and keep it reader friendly," Mr Bartlett, a father of triplets, said as the book launched on Thursday.

"Peter has a really nice way of saying, 'Graham, that's a bit crap'.

"And then I remember the time when I felt that it clicked."

Among the cases they explore is that of Paul Teed, who served 23 years in prison for killing his father, step-mother and half-brother in Shoreham in 1985, and who they went to meet for the book.

"I Googled him and found he was selling artwork on the internet," said Mr Bartlett.

"He was more than happy to meet us.

"He was incredibly damaged I think by what he had done. He makes no excuses for it. I mean he gives reasons but he makes no excuses and he has become very spiritual.

"I think, we use the term in the book, that he will be chained to his conscience forever."

The pair also went to meet David Henty, who now paints and sells copies of famous artworks but who last saw Mr Bartlett when the detective caught him forging passports on a huge scale in the early 1990s.

"We arrived there and he said, 'Graham, 'great to see you mate, how are you'?", Mr James said.

"I don't think the current crop of criminals would do that."

There is plenty in the book for fans of Mr James's novels - new background to some of Detective Grace's exploits, for example - but it is also a personal account of Mr Bartlett's juggling of family life with the bleakness of his work, and a horrific car accident that nearly killed him and his family.

"The point was to show we [as police officers] have our own struggles and have to work through them as everyone else does," he said.

"When I tried to go back to work [after the crash] I realised that I had this family that I could have lost, and I just reset the dial a little bit.

"We also wanted to show that we are family people with family values and not just these one-dimensional robots."

He describes how his view of policing changed when he bumped into a former childhood friend at the station whose life had spiralled into drugs and crime.

"It had a huge impact on me, " said Mr Bartlett.

"Before that I looked at policing in a very binary fashion - good and bad; they were on the bad side and we were on the good.

"Then I realised it's more complicated than that.

"We were soulmates up until the age of 13 or 14 and what is to say it would not have been me who became addicted to drugs.

"It does make you go back to thinking, there but for the grace of God."

In the scenario that gives the book its title, Mr Bartlett describes the unhappy task of having to knock on a door and tell a family their loved one has died in horrendous circumstances.

He writes: "There is something very sobering in standing outside someone's house late at night, seeing their shadow behind the curtains, knowing you are just about to rip the heart out of their lives forever."

"You are not really trained for it," he added on Thursday.

"Everyone is different and everyone's reaction is different and you just have to sort of make it up, really."

Mr James and Mr Bartlett are planning another book together, having developed a close working relationship over the past few years.

They already have a fair amount in common, having spent most of their years thinking about criminals.

But neither has found an easy answer as to why some end up on that path.

Mr Bartlett said: "I think there are people that just enjoy the buzz, some do it through need, particularly those with drug habits, and some who just have an incredibly short fuse that makes them incredibly violent. I don't think anyone is born bad."

Mr James said:"I think there is not one answer to that. I think at one end of the spectrum you get the real sociopath, then the other end of the spectrum you get someone like Steve Tully- an old Brighton villain.

"And I had lunch with him and he is 58, broke, living in a bedsit. And I said, 'OK, if you had your time again, what would you do differently'?

"And he said, 'I would do it all again, it's the adrenaline'."


Graham Bartlett and Peter James will be signing Death Comes Knocking: Policing Roy Grace’s Brighton, today (Saturday July 16) in WH Smith, Churchill Square, Brighton, from midday until 1.30pm. 

They will also both be appearing at Chatham Library, Kent, on Monday, July 25, at 7.30pm (call 01634 337 799) and at 7pm on Wednesday, July 2 at the Ropetackle Arts Centre, Shoreham (01273 464 440). 

Mr Bartlett will be appearing at Steyning Bookshop, Steyning, at 7.30pm on Thursday, July 28 (01903 812 062).

Visit for more information.