David Isaacson – 26th June 2005

As a stag-night prank, the friends of Michael Harrison, a wealthy property developer, bury him in a coffin. They give him a walkie-talkie and a breathing tube, then drive off to the pub. The car crashes, leaving three of them dead, a fourth in a coma, and Michael incarcerated in his tomb.

So begins Peter James’s Dead Simple (Macmillan, £10), a terrific tale of greed, seduction and betrayal. Michael’s disappearance is reported by his distraught fiancée, Ashley Harper. Enter the affable D S Roy Grace. Outspoken, idealistic and unorthodox, Grace is, at 39, a rising star of the Sussex force.

He suspects foul play by Mark Warren, Michael’s business partner and best man, but Warren claims to have had no idea of the stag party’s plans. Grace’s personal interest in finding Michael lies in the unexplained disappearance of his own wife. Meanwhile, Michael is becoming ever more desperate. His appeals on the walkie-talkie are picked up by a none-too-sharp kid who thinks he’s in an American detective show; the water that has leaked into the coffin is rising; and then his plight gets worse.