Eight pages in to Peter James’s latest Roy Grace novel I found myself forced to stop. Had I really just read what I thought I had? I re-read it and realised that I had not been mistaken. There, before my eyes, was a lengthy reference to Angry Birds! There was a time when a crime novel was judged on its plot and characterisation. Nowadays, though, crime authors need to be not only be incredibly good on authentically representing police procedure [something that James is a master of], but also completely up-to-date with all of society’s rapidly changing interests [so, within the first ten pages of Dead Man’s Grip there are also references to iPhones and the Friend Mapper app. And rather a lot of characters seem to use Kindles in the novel!].
However, good as the cultural references are [and much as they make me feel like a lumbering luddite], it is the plot, characterisation and depth of research that make this novel – and the series – stand out from the competition.
The plot all spools out from a tragic road accident in which a young American student is knocked from his bicycle and killer. But he is no ordinary student. For he has connections across the Atlantic – connections that will stop at nothing to gain brutal revenge on the people they hold responsible for his death. And, after two of the drivers involved in the crash are found tortured and murdered, single-mother Carly Chase begins to suspect that she is next. But will the police be able to help her escape from – and apprehend – a vicious killer before it is too late?
I have to admit that I did slightly have to suspend my disbelief at the coincidences needed for the plot to work. But once I had made that leap in my mind I quickly found myself becoming completely absorbed by Dead Man’s Grip. And the way that James ratchets up the suspense levels as the novel progresses is completely brilliant [and undoubtedly a legacy from his horror writing days].
But the novel is also filled with a very human core, as the reader gets to see Roy Grace continue to evolve. His fiancée, Cleo, is having difficulties with her pregnancy and Grace is also mourning the loss of his beloved Alfa Romeo 147 sports saloon! Indeed, there is a great scene early in the book when Grace and his younger, slicker, taller colleague, Glenn Branson, discuss – at length – whether you can have an Italian car in black or not. It’s a small, and not especially significant moment in the grand scheme of the novel’s plot, but it is representative of James’s authorial ability to realistically portray human relationships outside of the police procedural sphere.
On that note, it would be remiss of me [and almost impossible when reviewing a Roy Grace novel], not to mention the research that has obviously gone into Dead Man’s Grip. James’s ‘Acknowledgments’ pages are well known [possibly even infamous] for their length, and the one in this book does not disappoint. In fact, James has even sought the advice of a couple of NYPD detectives for this novel [although I shall refrain from mentioning what topic he was picking their brains about to avoid spoiling the plot too much!]. And all of this time and attention really does pay off, as all of the Roy Grace novels feel incredibly authentic. However, James also makes sure that this research never gets in the way of Dead Man’s Grip plot, which is just as the title would suggest – gripping [apologies, I couldn’t not use this pun at some point in the review!]. It grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go until I had finished the last sentence. Another addictive crime thriller from an author and a series that continues to go from strength to strength.