Peter James has achieved heavyweight status in the world of the British crime thriller. His series of police procedurals featuring tenacious Brighton copper Roy Grace (current tally: twelve) routinely storm the bestseller charts. He perhaps risked the loyalty of his growing legion of fans with a high-concept standalone novel, Perfect People (with DI Grace absent), but that – counterintuitively – turned out to be one of his most ambitious and accomplished books. However, Grace fans will be pleased to hear he’s back in Love You Dead.
The new book suggests that James is relaxing and enjoying himself, confident of his readers’ undivided attention. It’s a weighty read at over 400 pages, but justifies its considerable length with a storytelling rigour that doesn’t falter. As an unappealing and unattractive child, Jodie Bentley cherished two fondly held dreams: to acquire great beauty and to be married to a rich husband. Surgical means have attended to the first aspiration, and marrying for money has now proved to be a possibility. But she has a problem – how do you dispose of a now unwelcome spouse when your bank account has been finessed sufficiently? Jodie, however, is as ruthless in pursuit of this aim as she was in achieving her childhood dreams. And as a ‘Black Widow’ plies her lethal trade in Brighton, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is labouring under a variety of dark clouds: an unsatisfactory previous case, heavy pressure from his superiors, developments concerning his missing wife Sandy, and the return of an old enemy. But it isn’t long before the female murderer moves centre stage and he realises that she may be his most formidable quarry yet.
Peter James has been cannily paying out fragmentary information about Roy Grace’s missing wife over several books, but that’s only one of the reasons why his devoted readership picks up each new novel and is prepared to hang onto every word. Apart from anything else, there is that premium storytelling ethos, which is fully in place in Love You Dead. The new book sports a narrative which (though still Brighton-based) seems less parochial than international; this un-British scenario could just as well be set in Los Angeles as on the South Coast of the UK, but it’s none the worse for that. Grace, as ever, is economically but commandingly drawn, and the 17 million books James has sold worldwide is a number that will need to be adjusted substantially after this one.
Try one of the sharpest Roy Grace outings, Dead Man’s Time, in which a bloody trail leads from the antique shops of Brighton and extends throughout Europe.
DID YOU KNOW?
Peter James’s reputation as a purveyor of chilling horror and fantasy with such books as Host was assured before he turned to crime.