The problems are piling up for Detective Superintendent Roy Grace of Sussex CID. A headless and limbless torso has been discovered at a local chicken farm and there is no clue as to its identity.
Leading US rock star Gaia, determined to be treated seriously as an actress, is heading for Brighton to play the lead role in a movie tipped to be a potential Oscar winner, but her personal assistant has just been murdered and she is the target of one, or more, crazies.
While Grace is put in charge of making sure Gaia (a cross between Lady Gaga and Angelina Jolie) is safe from harm during her very public visit, he also has to give evidence in a major trial.
And just to pile on his worries, a vicious criminal he once put away is back on the streets, and Grace thinks he’s a threat to his pregnant partner, Cleo.
Grace, of course, has not yet married Cleo; and he still hasn’t had his wife – missing for a decade – declared dead.
So far, so complex, but author Peter James, one of the masters of crime fiction, is trying to spread his appeal, for the second book in this series, to the US market.
Hence the narrative flits from Beverly Hills to Sussex and the characters from English to American. Fortunately, James pulls it off with aplomb.
An American movie producer is ”on his fifth wife, a 22-year-old with gargantuan breasts and a brain smaller than her nipples”.
James pokes affectionate fun at his American characters – like hapless movie producer Larry Brooker, desperate for a hit to save his career – but the key to the story is always the police work.
”Missing person inquiries were like peeling off the layers of an onion skin in reverse. With each layer you removed, you widened the search parameters further: firstly, to cover your entire county, then the neighbouring counties, and then the entire country. If that produced nothing, you started looking at Continental Europe.”
As always, James paints an affectionate picture of his home turf – the faded English city of Brighton that desperately needs the kind of publicity the visit of a superstar would bring – and offers a convincing insight into the mindset of obsessive fans who stalk their celebrity heroes.
Another terrific read – James just keeps getting better and better.