Dead Simple, by Peter James
I wasn’t very far into this story, before it started feeling very familiar; I hadn’t read this book previously [normally the machine at the library will inform me if I’ve taken a particular book out before, although whether that will apply in the case of a different format, I don’t know], then I gradually started recollecting images from a television dramatisation. To pre-empt the review somewhat, I know the detective in the TV drama wasn’t one of the best-known ones, but I can’t for the life of me think who played the protagonist, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace: strange. Also, the televisual ending & possibly some elements of the narrative were different, but that is by no means unusual, for reasons best known to TV people.
According to the rear-cover blurb, this is touted as being this character’s first major case, which seems slightly implausible, given his rank, albeit newly acquired; and that there are at least eight other novels with “Dead” in the title, explicitly or presumably featuring the same character; also, not that I am any sort of expert on police procedures, but I don’t know how usual it is for a Superintendent to be SIO [Senior Investigating Officer] on a missing persons enquiry although, to be fair, he is initially working on the case in an advisory capacity at the invitation of an erstwhile colleague, Sergeant Glenn Branson, and he sees it as a welcome diversion from the cold cases he has been assigned, given his experience in the new rank, and a murder trial he is involved with, which is not only not guaranteed to succeed, but is also the source of plenty of ridicule because Grace is known for consulting mediums and other purveyors of unconventional methods, and it is reiterated, much to Grace’s chagrin, during the trial.
The missing person is Michael Harrison who, according to his distraught fiancée Ashley Harper, has disappeared during his stag night. We already know where the putative groom is: he is initially very drunk and buried in a makeshift grave somewhere in a forest in the Brighton area, in a coffin borrowed from work by one of the stag night attendees. Unfortunately, before the sinister prank can be brought to its conclusion, the van which had transported the coffin & the other carousers to the burial site is involved in a head-on collision immediately afterwards, and all but one of the occupants are killed instantly; the only survivor dies soon afterwards. So, the ultimate claustrophobic’s nightmare: buried alive, and no response initially from the walkie-talkie he was left with; neither does he have any mobile signal. From this point forwards, the race is on for Grace & Branson to locate Harrison before he dies in his appropriate location. One of the stag night attendees; Michael’s best man, and business partner, in fact; didn’t make the event, because his return flight was delayed. Understandably, he is relieved to still be alive, given the circumstances, but before long, Grace begins to suspect that there is more to his remorse than meets the eye, and that Ashley might not be quite as distraught as she would like people to believe.
Despite knowing its premise beforehand, I enjoyed reading this story, and the change of ending didn’t bother me at all: the villain of the piece, and the way the narrative was structured were very plausible, so I look forward to reading more by this author—I already have one more lined up! This paperback was published by Pan Books, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, London, in 2019 , ISBN 978-1-5098-9882-4.