The refined world of arts and antiques has always had a seedy, criminal underbelly which slithers serprent-like through the otherwise rarefied atmosphere of museums, galleries and auction rooms. For every Arthur Negus there is a Lovejoy… or rogue of an even less lovable hue.
Yet art-napping bizarrely enjoys an aura of glamour and excitement which seldom surrounds most crime. Think The Thomas Crown Affair, Gambit, To Steal A Million and more recently Ocean’s 12 or Trance. Hollywood has imbued the crime with a sheen which makes for good box office but does little or nothing for verisimilitude. Peter James’s latest outing for Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is the perfect antidote to this miscarriage. From the start, where a 98-year-old widow is subjected to a brutal aggravated burglary, to the finish, it is a veritable Antiques Rogues Show.
The elderly victim, Aileen McWhirter, is tortured to obtain the details of the combination of her safe as well as her bank account details. The thieves may steal more the £10million worth of valuable antiques but they are not above emptying her bank account at the same time.
Her brother, Gavin Daly, is a former doyen of the Brighton antiques trade, who has advised his sister in purchases. Daly mourns his sister but also the theft of a priceless Patek Philippe pocket watch which was given to him after his father, a dock worker and powerful gangleader, was marched away from their home in New York. Daly’s father, who was never seen again, was taken by gang rivals who also murdered his mother.
The orphaned brother and sister were subsequently sent to Ireland to be raised by family and the watch piqued his fascination with antiques and would make his considerable fortune.
Daly is determined to recover the piece and has little faith Grace will manage it. As Grace and his team proceed to uncover who was behind the crime they are constantly hindered by the efforts of Daly’s thuggish son and his Albanian sidekick. The Dalys are unconstrained by the need to abide by the law and their no-nonsense methods frequently mean they are ahead of Grace’s team.
If that wasn’t enough of a problem Grace’s life is further complicated by the fact that he has become a father and the changing dynamics of his domestic life are pulling in opposite directions from his duties as the chief investigating officer of a murder inquiry.
James also throws in a former criminal put away for life by Grace who is now out on licence and intent on exacting revenge on the detective in any way he can.
The sum total is classic James. The plotting is tight and polished and steadily paced with constant red herrings and misdirection to unsettle any reader who gets too comfortable in their assumptions.
This is Grace’s ninth outing and at the end of his last book one was left wondering how much more James could wring out this formula. The evidence suggests a fruitful future.