The Sherbrooke Record, Friday, February 24, 2012

Collision Course

Suspended Sentences

by Jim Napier

TAs, the British police call them, and investigating Road Traffic Accidents form an important, if gruesome, part of their work. But not all deaths are accidental, and even those that are can trigger a chain of events that leads to further violence, catching up the innocent in their wake. This week’s picks involve two very different tales that begin with road deaths and lead the reader through a labyrinth of intrigue. So settle down with either of them (or better yet, both), and prepare to be taken on a wild ride…

Peter James, Dead Man’s Grip

(Macmillan, 2011)

Brighton, Sussex: in the seventh foray in Peter James’ highly-successful series featuring Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, the officer finds himself wrestling with two very different crises, one personal, the other professional; both will shake him to the core.

On the domestic front is Grace’s ongoing concern for his missing fiancée. Months earlier, and pregnant with their child, Cleo had been hospitalized with complications. After she was released Grace thought their lives were coming back together, but one day Cleo simply disappeared. Her car was found at Gatwick Airport; she had taken no other clothes with her, nor, apparently, any money. Tantalizingly, friends had reported having glimpsed her while traveling in Munich. Grace had contacted the German police, and even traveled there himself to search for her, but nothing came of it. He continues to wonder, and to grieve.

At work, Grace is handed what should have been a routine fatal traffic accident: a cyclist had appeared suddenly from a side street, cutting off an Audi and a small transit van just passing it, and ended up crushed under the wheels of a large lorry coming the other way.

Witnesses thought the van had struck the cyclist, but the driver had immediately sped off. When the scene is sorted, however, it’s discovered that the Audi driver was under the influence, and she’s arrested and charged with causing the death of the cyclist, a local university student over from America. Understandably, the incident makes the papers.

In the normal course of events the police contact the young man’s mother, who lives on a posh Long Island estate. Her grief turns to outrage as she learns of the involvement of the various drivers. Understandable in such cases, but one thing makes this case different: she’s the wife of an American Mafia boss, and she wants revenge. Each of the drivers might think that the worst is behind them; they’d be wrong.

James is a master storyteller, and Dead Man’s Grip is very much up to his standard. The story of separate lives converging in one terrible moment, and the consequences of this single event, make for an engrossing race-against time.