Hollywood comes to Brighton: even the seaside city’s biggest fans, including resident Peter James, might raise an eyebrow at such an unlikely idea yet that is exactly what happens in the latest Roy Grace book.
Gaia Lafayette, a Madonna-like megastar who has reinvented herself since her humble origins on a scuzzy Brighton council estate, is coming home to shoot a film. She will play Maria Fitzherbert, the Catholic lover of George IV, in a role that she hopes will lead to an Oscar, not that Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is particularly interested. He is more concerned with identifying a corpse found buried deep in the detritus of an industrial chicken shed.
Since the body was left without head, arms and legs, the Sussex Major Crime Unit, headed by Grace, is struggling to establish who the victim was. When Grace is asked to ensure that Hollywood’s finest is properly protected, therefore, given that an attempt was recently made on her life in Los Angeles, he might be forgiven for wondering what his priorities should be, particularly as his own partner is about to give birth and he is also preparing for a major trial. Try as he might to ignore the major Hollywood film shoot taking place in Brighton Pavilion, it increasingly occupies Grace’s attention. He has to deal with warnings from superiors about the detrimental impact on Brighton’s international reputation (not to mention his own professional prospects) if anything goes wrong, while his colleagues keep asking whether he can get Miss Lafayette’s autograph.
As each storyline unfolds, it becomes clearer that these lines of inquiry overlap more than the reader might have thought. The victim, eventually identified through his tailoring, turns out to have been one of Miss Lafayette’s biggest fans, spending considerable sums of money on memorabilia.
James seamlessly plots his way through these competing storylines and it all climaxes with a noose-tightening cliffhanger on set.
James has clearly drawn on his extensive career as a film scriptwriter (he has worked with A-listers ranging from Peter Sellers to Charlize Theron) and, alongside his extensive knowledge of policing and a personal experience of stalking, injects authenticity into this tale of celebrity obsession. All the action is shot through with a bang-up-to-date contemporaneity, including a phone-hacking subplot.
James also gifts his fans some tempting morsels for the future, like the most revealing insight yet into Grace’s wife’s disappearance a decade ago. However, while Not Dead Yet never falls below Peter James’s usual high standards, it has a more contrived feel about it, more Tinseltown than Kemp Town, more style over substance.