Abused as a child, Jodie Danforth has always yearned for beauty and incredible wealth. Thanks to plastic surgery, she has beauty. Now she is marrying older gentlemen and murdering them for their wealth. Because of a tragic one-night stand in New York City, Jodie is tracked by a vicious assassin named Tooth. She flees to Brighton, England, where DS Roy Grace begins to track her after a petty burglar, Shelby Stonor, breaks into her home and is fatally bitten by her pet saw-scaled viper. Can Roy locate Jodie before she claims another wealthy victim or before she falls victim to a deadly assassin?

Venomous snakes, of the reptilian and human variety, abound in Peter James’s terrifying thriller, Love You Dead. Mystery fans, as well as herpetologists, are going to love sinking their fangs into this novel. James adds a new spin to the black widow mystique. Like a black widow spider, Jodie Danforth mates and she kills. What is different about this version? Jodie is obsessed with her collection of venomous creatures, which include snakes, frogs, spiders, and scorpions. Jodie herself is a venomous creature. However, she is being pursued by another equally venomous creature, nicknamed Tooth, who achieves a form of sexual euphoria by torturing his victims before dispatching them.

Jodie and Tooth both kill for a living. They feed on society like leeches. They both have many aliases and prefer to live under the radar. Their choice of pets is strange. Tooth has an ugly dog named Yossarian. He likes to cut off pieces of his victims, carry them back to his home in the Caribbean, and feed them to Yossarian. He is a true psychopath. Fortunately, Jodie, who has nerves of steel, isn’t too rattled by him. Neither is she rattled by Roy’s attempt to entrap her. He is the third side in this perverse love/hate triangle.

Roy has a lot on his plate. He and his newlywed wife, Cleo, are raising their infant son, Noah. He is told that his first wife, Sandy, is still alive but she is lying in a coma in a Munich hospital. The serial killer, Edward Crisp (from the previous Roy Grace novel, You Are Dead), has survived a collapsing tunnel and is still at large, perhaps living in Lyon, France.

Roy then learns that the assassin Tooth (from the first Roy Grace novel I read, Dead Man’s Grip) has entered Brighton. Later, he learns that both a petty thief and a wealthy gentleman, both citizens of Brighton, have died from the bite of a saw-scaled viper, which is native to India.

Once again, Peter James has conducted a lot of research. Reading Love You Dead is like reading nonfiction. It is packed with cutting edge forensic technology used in both fields of medicine and law enforcement. Don’t let the novel’s voluminous size dissuade you from reading it. This bizarre, creepy novel wraps around you like a boa constrictor and won’t let go until your head explodes. Perhaps, I am slightly biased because I have owned several snakes. However, mine were harmless, beneficial king snakes. Considering how clumsy I am, I would never own a poisonous reptile. Also, I once thought of becoming a herpetologist who studies snakes and milks them for their venom, which is used in numerous medications.

While reading Love You Dead, I made numerous comparisons between this novel and the classic theatrical thriller, Black Widow (1987). It stars Theresa Russell as Catharine, the black widow who marries and kills wealthy men. She injects their liquor or drugs with poison, making them appear to die of heart attacks. Debra Winger is the Federal statistician, Alexandra, who quits her job and pursues Catharine from Washington State to Hawaii. Becoming good friends, they compete for the same wealthy man who eventually proposes to Catharine. Unknowingly, Alexandra has become a pawn in Catharine’s deadly game.

There are many reasons why mystery fans should read Peter James’s Love You Dead: exotic locales such as a French ski resort, a crocodile farm in India, and a small island in the Caribbean. Evil, vicious, incorrigible villains who have no respect for human life. Creepy, venomous creatures that can cause slow, agonizing deaths. Plenty of tragic deaths, explosive action, and shocking revelations.

Except for the creepy, venomous creatures, Love You Dead is your typical Roy Grace novel. When purchasing a Roy Grace novel, the reader is guaranteed a front row seat on a twisting, turning rollercoaster ride. I can’t wait for the next instalment in this most excellent crime drama series.