Detective Superintendent Roy Grace of the Surrey and Sussex Major Crime Branch in Brighton, England, is investigating a most baffling case. A housewife, Lorna Belling, is found dead in a bathtub inside a cheap apartment unit. The primary suspect is her abusive husband, Corin. Upon further investigation, Roy discovers there are several other men who may have wanted her dead. One of the suspects wants Roy dead before he can discover the truth.
Meanwhile, Roy is preoccupied with burying his dead ex-wife, Sandy, who has been missing for many years and becoming a father to their ten-year-old son, Bruno. Bruno is a strange child. Something is terribly wrong with him. Furthermore, Roy’s nemesis, Assistant Chief Constable Cassian Pewe, is somehow connected to Bruno.
Who killed Lorna Belling? That is the million dollar question DS Roy Grace keeps asking himself in Peter James’s latest mystery, Need You Dead. Bringing Lorna’s murderer to justice is this novel’s focus; it kept me turning pages. However, there are numerous subplots that won’t be resolved until future installments
The subplot that snagged me like a fish on a hook is the one involving the sullen, blatantly disobedient Bruno. There is an aura of doom about him. I think Roy has invited an evil, devilish child into his home. I feel that Roy’s wife, Cleo, and their baby son, Noah, are in danger. Why did Bruno keep insisting that his friend Erik’s female schnauzer, Adini, would never be found? Did Bruno kill it because it bit him on the hand? While reading Need You Dead, look for other clues to Bruno’s true nature.
As usual, James’s writing style is superb. Thanks to his dedication to researching every detail, Need You Dead reads like nonfiction. (At the end of his novel, he acknowledges a team of people who helped him create it; he isn’t merely name-dropping like some writers do in order to make readers feel they are popular and respected among best-selling authors.) James makes his characters and locales appear very believable. He gives me the impression that he has expert knowledge on everything pertaining to police and medical procedures. I love how he uses modern technology, such as cell phone triangulation, to track the locations of some of the suspects when Lorna was murdered. He uses the psychological term “progressive escalation” to describe the steps that a criminal takes that leads them to rape.
Also, I was impressed by the introduction of the Super Recognizer Unit. It is composed of a team of police officers who all share a special gift. They are able to recognize the true identity of a partially disguised criminal simply by looking at their eyes, nose, jaw, or other facial feature. I did some research of my own and learned that this unit actually exists at Scotland Yard. The Super Recognizers sound like a group of superheroes. Police Officer Tim Weatherley is one such member of the unit. His life is endangered when he visits Roy Grace. Someone needs Tim dead. Need You Dead doesn’t have a high body count. It isn’t fodder for gore hounds such as me. However, there are some gruesome killings–the type you might find in a horror movie.
DS Roy Grace is a very likable character. He is extremely dedicated to his job. Some may say he is too dedicated. Roy fears it is his dedication that drove Sandy away. He blames himself for her death. Does Bruno also blame Roy for Sandy’s death? The entire Roy Grace series reads like a prime-time soap opera. It is very melodramatic and intriguing. It is also fast-paced.
However, the only thing that bothered me about Need You Dead is that the killer doesn’t make any serious attempts at murdering Roy. Only at the end of the novel, when he is pursuing the killer, is Roy’s life threatened. Nevertheless, I need to read the next installment in the series. I eagerly await its publication in order to learn if my misgivings about Bruno are true.