Bicyclist’s death at the root of crime-fiction thriller

By Vick Mickunas, Contributing Writer

Peter James is one of the most popular crime-fiction writers on the planet. His recent novel, “Dead Man’s Grip,” topped the Sunday-Times best-seller list in England. James writes mysteries. His greatest mystery? That he remains virtually unknown in America.

But this is changing. He has published 19 books so far. He has sold more than 10 million books. They have been translated into 34 languages. “Dead Man’s Grip” is the seventh book in his series featuring Detective Roy Grace.

The previous book in the series, “Dead Like You,” sold more than 20,000 copies in the U.S. He’s making progress here. The early books in this series are still out of print here. They didn’t sell that well even when they were available. His new American publisher, Minotaur Books, realizes James is a formidable talent with massive sales potential.

James is from Brighton, the seaside city in England that was known for a crime wave back in the 1930s. Roy Grace is a Brighton police detective in the present day. The author tries to spend at least one day each week with the police in Brighton doing research for these books.

In an interview I asked him about the underlying mystery that ties these books together. In the first book in the series Grace observed his 39th birthday. James explained that nine years before “on his 30th birthday he came home and his wife Sandy, who he loved and adored, has vanished … he has no idea whether she had an accident, whether she committed suicide, whether she ran off with a lover, or decided to go and reinvent herself.”

Seven books later, she is still missing. In “Dead Man’s Grip” Grace is preparing to remarry and he places an ad in the newspaper to start the process of having his wife declared legally dead. James elaborated on Grace’s situation: “although he has functioned as a very effective homicide detective he has this personal puzzle of his own. With each story we learn a little bit more about that mystery.”

His books often begin with a seemingly innocuous circumstance that soon spirals out of control. In “Dead Man’s Grip” a woman is driving along when her cellphone rings. She looks down at her phone, but she doesn’t answer it. When she looks up she sees a bicyclist coming right at her. She swerves to avoid him.

The bicyclist is hit by another vehicle. Several vehicles are involved as this cascade of random circumstances begins to spill over. The victim has Mafia connections back in New Jersey. When the boy’s mother finds out about the accident she hires a contract killer to torture and kill all three drivers of the vehicles that were involved.

When two out of the three drivers turn up dead the police realize that the surviving motorist, the woman, should quickly go into hiding. “Dead Man’s Grip” is the story of a relentless hit man who will stop at nothing to avenge the cyclist’s death.

It becomes a race between Roy Grace and one of the most clever bad guys imaginable. Peter James has penned another sizzler.

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Friday at 
1:30 p.m. and on Sundays at 11 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, go online to Contact him at