As a guardian of the procedural, Peter James would be pedantic but for his natural incorporation of forensics when the investigative team slogs through minute clues. At the same time, he keeps his reader breathless with his shifting points-of-view. The moodier passages in the Inspector Roy Grace novels induce a penetrating chill, like walking home alone in deepening dusk. Do you dare to look back over your shoulder, or should you turn the pages faster?
James has hooked a huge audience with the police detective’s heroics in Brighton, an English seaside town that has outgrown its romantic past. His landscape has multistory buildings casting shadows over Georgian-style terraces and beachfront gardens. Cars have almost replaced the railway. In fact, cars are an important class of icon in James’s world; you can tell a lot about a character from his or her choice of make and model.
In Not Dead Yet (127 fast chapters), Brighton is recalled as the late-18th century getaway of the Prince of Wales (later King George IV) and his amour, Maria Fitzherbert. Now Hollywood is coming to film the story of that near-ruinous affair at the Royal Pavilion, the architectural oriental fantasy that was the King’s obsession for 35 years. The star of “The King’s Lover” is one of Brighton’s home girls. Gaia Lafayette has evolved from talent show winner to become a rock star sensation worshipped around the world; she hopes to prove herself a credible actor. In her retinue are slavish PAs, willing to dress as Gaia dictates; comical and maniacal producers, directors, and arrangers; and weirdo fans, including one so lacking in individuation that she has spent her entire inheritance on Gaia memorabilia; a creepy misfit all-too familiar with secret rooms in the Pavilion; and a tourist channeling irrepressible anger.
Grace has a new Chief Constable to impress, so halfway to identifying a torso uncovered in a chicken coop, he agrees to protect this Hollywood crew, who are not allowed by English law to carry guns. As the spectacle threatens to get out of control, the Pavilion’s splendid dome, turrets, minarets, creaky staircases, passageways and a monstrous chandelier all become part of the action. Counterpoint is the ubiquitous technology that aids both good and evil.
The series’ ensemble cast is evolving. Roy’s lover Cleo, the sexy doctor who dissects murder victims, is about to give birth to their son; but the wedding remains stalled by the bureaucratic process to declare his first wife dead. His fashion-savvy sidekick, Glenn Branson, unhappily heading toward divorce, is given a chance to step up to a lead inspector role. The politically-incorrect but necessary Potts appears to have a new woman with reformative effects. Bella Moy spruces up her drab appearance. An old enemy is back to terrify Grace. There are big surprises in this “episode.” My advice is to read the Inspector Grace novels in chronological order. Then, to make truly come alive, search the Internet for the Royal Pavilion web site that includes video tours of “the Saloon Bottle” (rooms under the dome) and the King’s secret tunnel, both central to the plot.