Dead Man’s Time by Peter James is the ninth procedural featuring Brighton’s Detective Superintendent Roy Grace,  who confronts a case spanning nations and generations (available October 15, 2013).

Dead Man’s Time starts in 1922 New York, when we see a little boy lose his parents to murder. This same little boy gets shipped off to Ireland to be cared for by his aunt, but not before a mysterious stranger arrives at the dock with a valuable watch that belonged to the boy’s dead father. That’s our tie in to the book’s title: Dead Man’s Time. Without going into to too much detail, I will say that the 1922 story line dovetails nicely with the crime happening in the story in the present day in a very interesting way.

Then, we fast forward to the present day, where we have a particularly nasty career criminal by the name of Amis Smallbone (love that name) preparing to make our hero, Detective Superintendent Grace pay dearly for doing his job and putting Smallbone in jail years ago. This character is richly rendered and jumps off the page. Here’s a little peek into Amis Smallbone’s revenge-getting thought process, one that also enables him to avoid taking any responsibility for his own life:

“Of course, Grace hadn’t been a Detective Superintendent back then: just a jumped-up, newly promoted Inspector who had picked on him, targeted him, fitted him up, twisted the evidence, been oh so clever, so fucking smug. It was Grace’s persecution that had condemned him, now, to this cruddy rented flat, with its shoddy furniture, no-smoking signs on the walls in each room, and having to report and bloody kowtow to a Probation Officer regularly.”

He put the paper down, stood up a little unsteadily, and carried his glass over to the dank-smelling kitchenette, popping some ice cubes out of the fridge-freezer into his glass. It was just gone midday, and he was thinking hard. Thinking how much pleasure he was going to get from hurting Roy Grace. It was the one thing that sustained him right now. The rest of the nation had Olympic fever—the games were starting in a month’s time. But he didn’t give a toss about them; getting even with Roy Grace was all he cared about.

Amis Smallbone’s plans are even more worrisome, because Roy Grace and his girlfriend, Cleo, are the proud parents of a new little baby boy named Noah. Grace is busy trying to figure out how to make all the changes in his life work now that he has re-ordered priorities:

“They were right, thought Roy Grace, all those people who had told him that having a baby would totally change his life. He yawned, leadenly tired from endless disturbed nights with Cleo getting up every time Noah had woken needling a feed or his nappy changing. One of his colleagues, Nick Nicholl, a recent first-time father, had told him he’d taken to sleeping in a separate room so he wouldn’t be disturbed by the baby. But Roy was determined never to do that. The baby was a joint commitment and he had to play his part. But, shit, he felt tired…”

This is the first book I’ve read by Peter James and it won’t be the last. Despite my unfamiliarity with the series, I was able to jump right in and enjoy the ride without feeling like I had missed something plot-wise from previous Roy Grace novels. I loved the character’s development and the fresh, unexpected plot. If you like British police procedurals with excellent characterization and tautly-written suspense, you will like Dead Man’s Time. And if you don’t, it might be time to try something new just to make sure.   

Deborah Lacy