Book Review

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Left You Dead, by Peter James

Detective Superintendent Roy Grace’s latest case is not an easy one; although it probably wouldn’t make for a particularly engaging story if it was, would it? There are three main reasons for this: first of all, a distressed husband’s missing person case is very quickly converted to a murder inquiry, but without the aid of a body; secondly, he is being oh-so-politely hounded by his superior, ACC Cassian Pewe; and thirdly, before he can really get to grips with the case, he is beset by a family tragedy. The first two can be deconstructed, but to do this with the third would unhelpfully forewarn the reader, so I will eschew that. The disappearance of the wife appears to be straightforward, albeit mysterious, the way it is presented at the commencement of the narrative, but the husband is not the most attractive of human beings, in a rounded sense, and it is this which sets the ‘Spidey-senses’ of Grace and his colleague, DI Glenn Branson, tingling in very short order [notwithstanding the proclivity of the police, albeit possibly stereotypical, to suspect the messenger in preference to investigating the message], and before long, they have accumulated enough circumstantial evidence to arrest the man.

Further evidence is uncovered by Grace & his sizeable team, which includes a surveillance group, but the use of this facility is jeopardised, and it is even temporarily removed by Pewe, which Grace inevitably interprets as malicious, despite the operational reasons being justifiable, however debatable. What Pewe doesn’t know, at the outset, is that Grace has a source of ostensibly credible & reliable evidence against him, which could end his career, although Grace is painfully aware that this venture could also go badly wrong, because the source is a discredited police officer, so he has to bide his time and continue to be acquiescent with Pewe, and avoid being too obviously insubordinate. On the plus side for Grace, he has a very happy marriage with Cleo, who is a medical examiner [pathologist] and currently pregnant, but they also have a toddler, Noah, and these provide him with welcome solace from his tribulations; although the family tragedy inevitably involves Cleo, as Grace’s wife. Other dimensions to the ‘missing body’ murder inquiry are fed into the narrative as it progresses, but these cannot be revealed here! Suffice to say that Grace & his team have to revise their assessment of the situation [and perhaps, in the process, examine their preconceptions?] several times before a dénouement is reached.

This is a substantial hardback of 482 pages, but it does mean that the pacing can be relatively slow, so the development of the narrative can be savoured & enjoyed, like a gourmet meal. A second TV dramatisation of a Roy Grace book has now been produced, following on from the first story, Dead Simple, reviewed here, and very sensibly, it is the second book chronologically, Looking Good Dead, again starring the ever-capable John Simm as Roy Grace; although the screenwriting duty was assigned to Russell Lewis in both cases—having enjoyed the first, I look forward to watching the second, as soon as it becomes available on one of the ITV channels. The hardback I read was published in 2021 by Macmillan, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, London, ISBN 978-1-5290-0424-3.

Book Review

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Love You Dead, by Peter James

Things have moved on for Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, since his situation in the previous story I reviewed, here: he has married the woman, Cleo, he met during the course of his work, and they now have a baby son, Noah. His previous wife Sandy has, in the meantime, been declared dead, after disappearing without a word when they seemed, to all outward appearances, to be mutually happy. Unfortunately, Grace now learns that Sandy is still alive, and he is only too aware of the consequences to his current relationship, if she were to say that she wanted to return to him. He is still working with Glenn Branson, who is now an Inspector; for him, however, the intervening years have not brought a happy turn of events in his home life: he was divorced from his wife, who died, subsequently.

Grace’s current concern, professionally, is the hunt for a serial killer, Dr Edward Crisp, who has murdered five, or possibly more—still to be established—young women. He made a miraculous escape when he was cornered in an underground lair, and in the process shooting Grace in the leg with a shotgun, an injury from which he has only recently returned to work after a lengthy & painful recuperation. While Grace is considering his options on this case, another serial killer, a woman whose current name is Jodie Bentley, begins to operate from a base on Grace’s ‘turf’: she targets rich, older men and disposes of them as quickly, neatly and, ideally, as untraceably as possible; naturally, she soon acquires the sobriquet “the Black Widow”.

There is also a third strand to this story: an American contract killer, known as “Tooth”, although he also, like the Black Widow, uses a variety of aliases. Tooth is already known to Grace’s team, because he made a seemingly impossible escape when he had been identified by them, and dived into Brighton harbour, after a desperate struggle with Glenn. Tooth later accepts a contract to return to Brighton to hunt for Bentley, after she steals a large sum of money and, more significantly, a memory stick, from a mobster based in Las Vegas, but in the pay of the Russian mafia, who tries to rape her in his hotel room. All this would be grist to Grace’s mill, were it not for the fact that his superior officer treats him with undisguised disdain, and makes it abundantly clear that Grace’s career is hanging by a thread—for reasons which are not immediately apparent, so it is possible that this could be the result of circumstances occurring in a previous story.

The ending contains a neat little twist which, with hindsight, could have been predicted, but it does work well, and it provides relief from a little scare, where one character is concerned; all the loose ends are nicely tied up though. Having now read two episodes of the Roy Grace genre, written by this author, I can add him to my notional list of names to watch out for whenever I visit the library, because the stories are well constructed, with believable characters and accurate police procedures, and engaging to read, because the action moves at a decent pace without becoming overwhelming. This latest book is available in paperback from Pan Books, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, London, and was published in 2016, ISBN 978-1-4472-5589-5.

Book Review

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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 [2005], ISBN 978-1-5098-9882-4.

Book Review

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The Man That Got Away, by Lynne Truss

I wouldn’t go quite as far as the Daily Mail reviewer of this book, that it is a “farce”, knockabout or otherwise, but there are some amusingly implausible elements in it. This is by no means her first fiction book; she is best known as the author of a best-selling book on punctuation, would you believe [in these less grammatically aware days], called Eats, Shoots & Leaves; but it is the second outing for her police series featuring a character whose name is surely chosen to refute nominative determinism: Detective Constable Twitten. This book was published in 2019, by Raven Books, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, paperback ISBN 978-1-4088-9057-8; a further story, Murder By Milk Bottle, has also been published. Aside from the [for me] uncomfortable title of this book*, which could be the author’s little joke, given that popular songs of the 1950s figure in it, I would have expected this to be a well-constructed & articulate story [notwithstanding the “farce” element], which it mostly is [although like 99.9% of the British-writing world, she commences sentences with And & But, but I’ll leave that there], and that is a pleasant change.

Another literary convention of the police procedural which Truss stands on its head is the one which dictates the middle-ranking officers are the cleverest, whereas the top brass are hidebound and often corrupt, and the novices are too green to be of much help. Here, Constable Twitten is not long out of police training at Hendon and only a couple of months into his sojourn at Brighton police, but he is by far the cleverest officer there [although obviously well-bred, evidenced by his habit of using “bally” as an expletive]; his immediate superior, Sergeant Brunswick is well-meaning but slow and somewhat naïve; Inspector Steine [my own preference here is that the final vowel should be pronounced, as with Porsche, given that the word clearly has German origin] is next to useless, and a chauvinist at that, but it is 1957, so not unexpected. The cleverest person in the station is a civilian, the charlady Mrs. Groynes, who might give the convincing impression [to those of a credulous disposition] of being a cheerful & regularly foul-mouthed cockney, but Twitten has every reason to believe that she is a devious criminal mastermind [not mistressmind, then?] who is in the ideal position to have her finger on the pulse, and her ear to the ground, when it comes to access to often confidential information which could be crucial to planning & perpetrating heinous crimes.

Unfortunately, despite Mrs. Groynes being well aware of Twitten’s suspicions, neither of his superiors is prepared to believe him [considering him obviously deluded by a stage hypnotism act], so he has to act alone most of the time. This story is somewhat convoluted, involving confidence tricksters, murder, an old mansion house, behind which [occupying the site of its former orchard & ornamental garden] are a nightclub run by a criminal family, and an adjacent waxworks, in the style of [but nowhere near as good as] Madam Tussaud’s in London, so there are plenty of different characters to remember, but it is an enjoyable romp, even if it isn’t as knowingly [or even archly] funny as Terry Pratchett’s books, for me anyway. All the threads in the narrative are neatly tied up at the end, so that the next story [and there are a couple of chapters as a taster at the end of the version of the book which I read] can follow straight on from this one, without it being a sequel, as such. I’m not sure if this decade is the most popular for books set in Brighton, but there are quite a few of them; Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock is actually mentioned as context for one element in this story. I would be happy to read the other two books in this series, anyway.

*This clunky habit would appear to be virtually ubiquitous, so I must be one of the few abstainers who prefer to refer to people as who, not that: I blame my grammar school education. I shall continue to be a voice in the wilderness with this little peccadillo [with no prophetic aspirations, I hasten to add].