I have a soft spot for the Brighton-based Det Supt Roy Grace series, even if at times you need to leave your disbelief at the door! If you haven’t come across the books, they’re police procedurals, interspersed with the running theme of our hero’s missing wife.
And that’s to the fore at the start of DEAD MAN’S FOOTSTEPS when a woman’s body is found in a storm drain in Brighton. Grace, desperate to find out what happened to Sandy, who disappeared nine years ago, starts putting two and two together . . .
Meanwhile, the action flashes between a shady Brighton businessman using 9/11 as the perfect excuse to drop out of sight, while in the present day a young woman is being hunted through the city.
DEAD MAN’S FOOTSTEPS is a touch slow to get going, but James is a damn good storyteller, and he kept me reading to find out how the events of 9/11 dovetailed with the murder in present day UK and a body found in the boot of a car Down Under.
The action flips between Brighton, New York and Australia, which means that Grace is often absent. And when he is present, James is ploughing some fairly old furrows – the missing wife (fortunately the touch of woo woo that plagued previous books isn’t around) and DS Glenn Branson’s increasingly angst-ridden love life.
There’s also the continuing saga of Grace’s bete noir, Supt Cassian Pewe (what’s with the weird names? Anyone’d think it’s a Dick Francis novel!) That particular plot thread announces its arrival with the subtlety of a flying sledgehammer. James is proud of the fact he spends a day a fortnight with Sussex police, so we must assume that, um, characters like Pewe really do exist!
But the scenes featuring Abby, who’s being stalked, are truly scary – I avoided lifts for a week or so after reading the book! And James, who’s a masterful and confident plotter, keeps a very firm hand on the disparate threads.
If you haven’t come across this series, it’s excellent holiday reading. Start at the beginning (this is book four) and enjoy some fast-paced storytelling featuring a hero who’s good at his job but endearingly human. I’ll even forgive James an ending with a very faint whiff of cheese!