Peter James’ latest Brighton detective novel focuses on the glamorous movie world, and even features a Madonna-style rock singer who fears for her life when she attracts a crazed stalker. Can Detective Superintendent Roy Grace save the day? And will he ever discover the truth about his missing wife? Vanora Leigh goes in search of answers…
For Peter James fans, it’s not this summer’s London Olympics or the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee they’ve been eagerly anticipating all year. It’s the publication of the Sussex author’s latest crime novel, Not Dead Yet, featuring the county’s favourite policeman, Detective Superintentdent Roy Grace.
The Grace thrillers have become something of an annual treat since the first, Dead Simple, was published in 2005. Grace’s character has proved phenomenally popular, and the chart-topping books (there are now eight in the series) have sold more than three million copies in the UK and 11 million copies worldwide. But there’s no secret to James’s sucess – quite simply, he writes a gripping page turner that leaves you wanting more.
Grace’s latest outing takes him into the world of celebrity and its downsides – the stalkers, those deluded obsessive ‘fans’ whose lives are far removed from the restraints of normality.
When global rock superstar Gaia Layette (think Madonna and Lady Gaga) returns from Hollywood to her hometown of Brighton to play Mrs Fitzherbert in a movie based around her ill-fated love affair with the Prince Regent. Grace has the enviable task (she fancies him) of protecting her from one such derranged stalker.
He’s also running a far less glamorous murder investigation centred around the discovery of a headless and limbless torso found buried under piles of chicken droppings on a Berwick farm. Ultimately, and bizarrely, this case has links to the privileged world of Lafayette.
Then there are Grace’s personal problems. Partner Cleo is in an advanced state of pregnancy when it appears she, too, has a stalker.
As always, the locations are firmly rooted in Sussex, in places known – and, in the case of the Royal Pavilion – loved by Sussex readers. But if you think you know the wonderfully rustic Pavilion, think again, because the book takes us into secret passageways, basements, a tunnel, and even the interior of the building’s central onion dome, which are rarely seen by the public.
Some of the characters, too, are real people that James has encountered during his researches. For some readers, it may be a little disconcerting to find the fictitious Grace discussing case notes with actual serving Police colleagues. But then James really knows his local officers because he regularly shadows the force to ensure his procedural detail is spot on.
Another recurring thread in the books also pops up again – the mystery surrounding Grace’s missing wife, Sandy. Gone for 10 years, he suspects she’s alive, but doesn’t know for sure. As readers will discover, his hunch proves to be correct, but as the novel closes he’s still in the dark. Perhaps he’ll find out next time. Please let there be a next time, Mr James.