Christina Koning – 11th February 2006

Peter James’s superior thriller opens with a stag-night prank gone wrong: buried alive in a stolen coffin, the prospective groom, a property developer named Michael Harrison, is left with no food or water and diminishing air when the pranksters are wiped out in a freak accident.

Leaving aside the question of what kind of friends would come up with such a scheme, what follows is gripping. Michael is left to ponder his fate for a nail-biting number of chapters while Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, of the Brighton police, has to unravel a satisfyingly complex puzzle in his quest to find him. The arrival of Michael’s business partner, Mark Warren — who was to have been best man at the wedding — seems likely to be able to provide the clue to Michael ’s whereabouts; but he claims to know nothing about the disastrous prank. Equally unhelpful is the beautiful Ashley, Michael’s fiancée, who seems more interested in maintaining her perfectly groomed appearance than in finding her future husband. Then there is the sadistic Vic, who knows more than he should about Michael’s offshore accounts; eventually all these threads are drawn neatly together.

Brighton — described with a sharp appreciation for its mixture of stylishness and squalor — has been a good backdrop for murder and mayhem since Graham Greene’s day. This isn’t quite up to the standard of Brighton Rock, but it does have some agreeably chilling moments and some entertaining twists.