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Not Dead Yet: Dayton Daily News

By Vick Mickunas

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The other day I was chatting with a regular reader of this column. He observed that I haven’t reviewed much crime fiction lately. I assumed that he must be mistaken? Then I checked. He was right. I must remedy this oversight.

Peter James just published “Not Dead Yet.” It is the latest in his series featuring Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. James sets these thrillers in the English seaside city of Brighton.

In this one Brighton is buzzing, a Hollywood movie crew is in town making a film about how King George the Fourth once famously pursued his mistress Maria Fitzherbert. The American music star Gaia Lafayette will play Maria in the film. Her fans are out in force. Roy Grace is heading up her security detail.

Peter James knows his way around a movie set. He was the executive producer for the 2005 Al Pacino flick “The Merchant of Venice.” In “Not Dead Yet” we experience the media frenzy engulfing this starlet. James portrays her as a fictional cross between Lady Gaga and Madonna.

Big stars attract fanatical fans. In Brighton one Gaia fan is lethally obsessive. Anna Galicia has built a shrine packed with Gaia collectables. Anna pays exorbitant sums for her treasures. She is thrilled her idol is making a movie in Brighton because “if the film became as big a hit as everyone was anticipating, the value of all her memorabilia would soar even higher.”

Anna’s moods shift rapidly. As she scans eBay she declares: “Not that Anna would ever sell. She was a buyer, always a buyer. Always would be. She hated it when people started bidding stupidly against her. It was like people were trying to take something away that was rightfully hers. A coil of anger spiralled through her as she stared at this new bid, again.”

Anna entertains delusions that Gaia is secretly communicating with her. And Anna begins to stalk her. The author knows a bit about stalkers. In an interview James told me that he once had a stalker who showed up at all of his book signings. Then it got really weird.

Meanwhile Roy Grace is hoping to solve a bizarre murder that took place on a farm. An unusual piece of fabric is one potential clue. But Grace is distracted. There’s this career criminal, Amis Smallbone, who Grace had once sent to prison. Now he’s out. Someone has left a threatening message on the car belonging to Roy’s fiancee, Cleo.

Grace really wants to marry Cleo, but there’s this ongoing complication involving his wife Sandy. She had vanished 10 years ago. If he can have her declared legally dead, then he can go on with his life. Fans of this series know better. Nothing is ever that easy in a Peter James novel.

Peter James is a brilliant plotter. His books present dense puzzles to be solved. Prepare to be delighted with the resolution of this dark gem. You might try avoiding chandeliers after reading “Not Dead Yet.” It is a humdinger.