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Dead Man’s Grip: Sunday Express

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Sunday June 19, 2011 By David Connett

A ROAD accident during the drizzly morning rush hour sees a young university student killed beneath the wheels of a lorry.

The vehicle’s tachograph will show the driver has liberally exceeded his legally safe working hours.

A second driver involved, a female solicitor, still drunk from the previous evening’s entertainment, fails a breathalyser. a third driver, an anonymous White Van Man, speeds away.

From an everyday, mundane traffic accident, albeit fatal, Peter James spins a chilling piece of storytelling.

The victim, studying in James’s beloved Brighton, is American. Unfortunately for all involved he is the cherished son of a US crime boss whose inconsolable wife wants her pound (pounds) of flesh, from all those involved.

So much so, she hires a killer to exact it. Thus begins detective superintendent Roy Grace’s seventh outing and, in the hands of Peter James, it is as engaging a ride as any seaside rollercoaster.

It would be wrong to call it a murder mystery since there is plenty of the former and little of the latter because we always know who did it.

However as the hitman sets about eliminating everyone held responsible, James spins out the “will he/won’t he?” tension to the point of fissure and fracture.

James’s hallmark is his meticulous documenting of police procedures. His portrayal of the Sussex force that Grace operates in is unquestionably one of the most realistic renderings of a modern force that you will find in the genre today, with all its internal politics, stresses and logic.

This authenticity, coupled with the ingenuity of his plotting, drives the tale at a pace that could fuse speed cameras on the M1.

James has judiciously interwoven the tale with Grace’s own pressures: his partner is undergoing a difficult first pregnancy while, in order to remarry, he is also obliged to establish whether his missing wife is dead or alive.

Some English south coast towns have acquired, to various degrees, reputations for being what is politely termed God’s waiting rooms. Brighton has never suffered from that problem but its tourism board might get a little sweaty palmed if James’s reputation for killing off its inhabitants continues to grow.