Actor Thomas Howes has risen from his Downton Abbey deathbed to turn detective. And he has teamed up with one of Britain’s crime writing kings to crack The Perfect Murder in York.
Thomas, best known as footman turned war hero William Mason in Downton, joined best-selling author Peter James to launch The Perfect Murder in York’s Guildhall on Tuesday (May 6).
This is the title of one of Peter’s hit novels which, adapted for the stage, will spend a week at York’s Grand Opera House in the autumn.
The story centres on married couple Victor and Joan Smiley. Victor has decided that there is only one way to rid himself of his other half forever.
But unbeknown to him, his wife is harbouring similarly murderous thoughts…
Thomas will star as Detective Roy Grace, investigating his first homicide.
Peter told the gathering at the Guildhall that he once asked the chief constable of Sussex if it was possible to commit the perfect murder.
“He said without any hesitation at all, ‘Absolutely! It’s the one we never hear about…”
There are about 650 murders a year reported in Britain, Peter said – but police think there are perhaps another 650 more that they never get to hear about.
Peter prompted laughter when he said that the idea of murdering their spouse has crossed the minds of many husbands and wives at some point in a long marriage.
“I know it’s crossed mine a few times… The only thing that stops most of us from doing it is that most of us are born with a conscience.”
He undertakes many hours of research with the police to get the procedures right, and cannot abide sloppy mistakes in TV crime shows.
“I watched Broadchurch and there were five massive howlers in the first episode!”
From Downton to detective
As William Mason, the big hearted, put upon second footman in Downton Abbey, Thomas played his part in a massive worldwide TV hit.
William fell for scullery maid Daisy, then died after saving a comrade from shellfire in the First World War. It was a role he relished.
“I really enjoyed all the filming and screen work, but before that my background was in theatre,” he said.
“I had a classical training, and live theatre is where I feel most at home.”
Thomas has played a detective before, in Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. Previously he starred in The History Boys by Alan Bennett.
Thomas is from Doncaster, and his family and friends will be coming to see him in The Perfect Murder at the Grand Opera House.
“My dad’s family come from York,” he said. “When I was a kid he used to take me around the walls, Micklegate Bar, all that.”
As a student, Peter took the job driving tourists around the UK, including a brief stopover in York.
“I love this city,” he said, adding that he was looking forward to spending more time here during the play’s run. “I want to go to the railway museum.”
Peter’s three-step murder guide
Having sold 14 million crime books, Peter knows a thing or two about murder. Here are his top tips…
1 Get yourself tooled up We’ve all got access to murder weapons, whether it’s our bare hands, “the claw hammer in the garden shed” or poison – a favourite of women killers
2 Dispose of the evidence “If you are going to kill someone, a key thing is to get rid of the body. So many people are caught because the body turns up and there are clues on it.”
3 Don’t tell anyone Too many people give in to their guilty conscience – and confide their crime to a friend. And then the secret’s out
- A Perfect Murder is at the Grand Opera House in York from Monday, September 29 to Saturday, October 4
- More details on the theatre website
- Read more theatre stories here