In Brighton, England, Carly Chase swerves and crashes her Audi into a café in order to avoid hitting a cyclist, Tony Revere, who is pedaling on the wrong side of the street. Unfortunately, a tailgating van runs a red light and strikes Tony who is thrown underneath a lorry driven by Stuart Ferguson. The van never stops.
Tony’s mother, Fernanda Revere, is the daughter of a notorious New York mobster, Sal Giordino. She hires a devious hit man, Tooth, to torture and kill Carly, Stuart and the unknown driver of the van. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace races against time to save Carly when she becomes the last surviving victim of Fernanda’s rage.
Peter James’ Dead Man’s Grip is one of the most intense, most provocative British crime novels I’ve read in years. My hands had an unbreakable grip on this book as I finished reading the last one-hundred pages in one sitting. Perhaps the novel could’ve been condensed into approximately three-hundred pages but a lot of interesting police and medical procedures would have been omitted. Also, the reader would not have been able to delve as deeply into Roy Grace’s personal life and learn shocking facts that he himself didn’t even know.
This is my first Roy Grace novel and I am now a new fan of the series. I was able to easily acquaint myself with the main characters and their dangerous lives. At the Met, Grace is slowly climbing up the ladder of command whether he wants to or not. His African-American partner, Glenn Branson, is experiencing a messy divorce. Roy’s pregnant fiancée, Cleo Morey, has a disease affecting the placenta; she could lose their baby. Meanwhile, Grace is working hard to have his missing wife Sandy declared dead. Many of Grace’s soap opera-like dilemmas won’t be resolved until the next installment.
My favorite characters were both diabolical. First, there is the evil, spoiled mafia princess, Fernanda Revere, who lives in an East Hamptons mansion on Long Island. A bully who delights in abusing the staff, she’s described as the “bitch queen from Hell”. Her spineless husband, Lou Revere, an accountant for the mob, merely tries to stay out of her way, especially when she is in a drunken rage.
The other character that greatly fascinated me was Tooth, a very professional, military trained hit man who lives in the Caribbean. He has an ugly dog, Yossarian, that chews off the fingers of intruders. Tooth is best described as a small, wiry man who is surprisingly strong, fierce and agile, like a mongoose. He’s also wily like a coyote, able to outsmart the police, always keeping one step ahead of them. Worst of all, he likes to videotape his victims while they are slowly dying in gruesome manners that may offend some readers.
Roy Grace is the proverbial knight in shining armor who must protect beautiful women. They include his fiancée Cleo Morey and Carly Chase, a divorce lawyer. Carly is a widow whose husband Kes died in an avalanche while skiing. She struggles to raise her twelve-year-old son Tyler with only her mom to help her. From Carly, I learned that a night of heavy drinking can cause a breathalyzer test performed the next morning to indicate that one is still technically drunk. In other words, don’t get into a traffic accident after having been on a drinking binge the previous night.
While reading Dead Man’s Grip, I suspected that a tremendous amount of research went into writing it because of the highly detailed police and medical procedures. I felt as though I was reading nonfiction. My suspicions were confirmed when I read the author’s Acknowledgements at the end of the novel. He thanked many people for helping him bring this story to life. I believe that he depicted every person, place and event as accurately as possible.
Most importantly, after reading Dead Man’s Grip, I think that I will be a safer, more careful driver. If I accidentally kill someone who is related to the mob, I might find myself the target of a professional hit man. Seriously though, this novel caused me to reflect on how I would feel and behave if I had a child who was senselessly killed. If my parents were killed by a drunk driver, I might want to hurt that drunk. This is why forgiveness is very important. Unfortunately, forgiveness was something that Fernanda Revere was incapable of offering.
Fans of violent crime drama, especially those of British noir, will highly enjoy Peter James’ gritty, realistic Dead Man’s Grip. Another current release in this genre that is highly recommended is Barry Maitland’s Chelsea Mansions. In this complex police procedural, British detectives David Brock and Kathy Kolla investigate the death of an American tourist who was deliberately thrown underneath a London bus. Soon afterwards, a German businessman is stabbed to death. Both victims were residents of Chelsea Mansions. What is the horrible secret that connects them?