James, Peter - 'Looking Good Dead'
Peter James follows up his racily readable first outing for Detective Superintendent Roy Grace with a second, LOOKING GOOD DEAD, which is just as good, if not better. The new book opens with a scene familiar to commuters - packed train, irritating man yelling down mobile phone - and quickly lurches into nightmare as passenger Tom Bryce innocently picks up an abandoned CD, takes it home, downloads it, and sees a murder.
Just as he did so successfully with the stag-night prank gone wrong in his first Roy Grace novel, DEAD SIMPLE, James ratchets up the tension in LOOKING GOOD DEAD. Tom's business and family life spirals out of control as the owners of the CD close in on him and exact terrifying revenge on Tom for his fateful curiosity. Chapters splice between victims and predators, police and criminals, the pace building up almost unbearably as paranoia turns into reality.
One of the pleasures of this book is the personality of Grace, a policeman who has been around for many years, a true professional and on top of his game. His uneasy relationship with his female boss, the local media and his role in today's politically correct police force are conveyed with confident conviction. The author's friendship with Chief Superintendent Dave Gaylor of Sussex Police, and his journalistic investigation and "shadowing" of police operations, coroners and others as research for this book, really pay off in terms of a convincing milieu.
Grace is an intuitive policeman, sympathetic to the paranormal since suffering a catastrophic personal loss - his wife disappeared some years ago and he has never found out why or what happened to her, although one senses he will in a future book. Here, we find out more about the impact of this event on Grace's character, and more about his nascent attempt at a relationship with Cleo Morey, the improbably beautiful and expert mortician (yes, really, mortician!).
Although the plot and pacing are terrific, there are also implausibilities in the book; once the basic situation is set up, experienced noir readers might guess quite a bit of what is going on without trying too hard. But if you take this book on its own terms, you are in for the epitome of a rattling good read. You probably won't be able to put it down once you start it, so be warned.
Maxine Clarke, England