A Flamboyant Film Star, A Vicious Criminal, Deranged Fans – Enjoy Them All In Roy Grace’s Latest Adventure

Not Dead Yet by Peter James.

Apart from writing crime novels, Peter James is a race car driver, a film maker (he was executive producer of the award-winning The Merchant of Venice which premiered in the presence of Prince Charles) and was recently re-elected as chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association.

Yes, but what about his novels? Are they any good?

In fact they are excellent. No wonder he has been published in 35 countries. He always casts his creative net far and wide, and populates his tales with characters drawn with zest and in strong colours.

Another hallmark of his work, which I admire, is his insistence on authenticity. If he takes you into the offices of the police in Brighton, you can be sure he is describing the scene as it actually is. And as his previous acknowledgments indicate, he has the ear of the top brass in the Sussex Police so when he provides meticulous detail of police procedure in that part of Britain you can count on it being accurate.

In the latest thriller, Not Dead Yet, his characters include a Hollywood showbiz queen, Gaia (a mere one letter remove from Gaga) an American film producer who is desperate to save his flagging career by starring Gaia in a trashy movie called The King’s Lover, two obsessive fans/worshippers of Gaia who are teetering on the edge of insane fanaticism and a vicious little gangster who is threatening the life of the soon to be born child of the hero of the novel, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace of the Sussex Police.

And, oh yes, there is a loose cannon floating around in the shape of a man who is consumed by waves of anger so intense he might go up in flames at any moment.

And of course there is the customary assortment of coppers who enrich Grace’s life as a top sleuth in Brighton. As usual in this particular series, the city of Brighton is one of the stars of the novel and James describes the city’s historic embellishments, notably the eccentric Pavilion, King George’s Folly, with affectionate admiration. Indeed, a dramatic high point of the novel occurs within the bizarre halls of the Pavilion.

I regard this as one of he best of the Grace series, for it is multi-layered with richly drawn characters and a nicely judged and indeed gripping balance of scene, dialogue, police procedure and action.

And in a master stroke of invention, the author introduces a woman from Roy Grace’s past who could wreck his personal life and ruin a cherished romance.

The contrasting atmospheres of Hollywood excess and police pragmatism, of the deranged jealousies of the denizens of showbiz and the evil resentments of psycho criminals, create a highly theatrical environment for the creatures of Peter James’s invention and he makes them strut across his stage with thoroughly entertaining bravura, menace and pathos.

And of course when he describes the ego-infested atmosphere of movie making we have to remember that he’s been there, done that — and probably took notes.

And once again it occurs to me that Peter James has allowed something of his own personality to manifest in that of his hero, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, who loves classic Italian cars and dogs, just like James.

And isn’t it encouraging to know that this highly professional novel knocked that pornographic absurdity 50 Shades of Grey off the top of the best-selling list on Amazon in the UK?

Bravo Mr James. I would award you five stars were it not for the fact that your writing is more concerned with energy than with subtle celebrations of literary style. — Prospero

Rating: Four and a half coruscating stars.