James, Peter - 'Not Dead Enough'
There are plenty of thrills in Peter James' latest Roy Grace book, but not much of a mystery. The book opens with the death of Katie Bishop, social-climbing wife of a wealthy Brighton businessman. The murder seems to have been carried out by someone called the "time millionaire", but who is he? And what’s his motive?
Katie's husband, Brian, is playing golf when he hears the news. He seems less than upset, so when Grace and his team discover that Bishop lives in London during the week and only comes home at weekends, they have their suspicions. We are also introduced to Sophie Harrington, a film production assistant and Bishop's girlfriend. Or is she? She thinks she is, but he emphatically denies it.
At this point, the experienced crime fiction reader will spot a few plot flaws (which aren't resolved), and even readers new to the genre will not have too much difficulty figuring what is going on very early on in the book (the final twist is easy to guess, and isn't much of a twist). Nevertheless, having set up the plot, Peter James wisely switches most of the rest of the book to the police detectives involved in the case, and tells the story from their perspective. We discover more about Grace and his developing relationship with mortuary assistant Cleo, which is abruptly derailed by a reported sighting of Grace's wife, missing for nine years. Glenn Branson has marital problems so moves in with Grace, but is a slob; the repellently amusing Norman Potting has a welcome cameo, having apparently acquired a Thai bride over the Internet since the last book. The uneasy relationship of the police with the media and the public is woven into these stories and those of other police colleagues and investigations.
One such investigation involves a piece of local lowlife called Skunk, who lives in a camper van and steals cars to order to feed his heroin habit. The police who are attempting the impossible task of cleaning up Brighton's drug scene do a deal with Skunk in order to catch a dealer higher up the chain, but instead there is an explosive clash with Grace's attempts to solve Katie's murder. Eventually, after Cleo herself is threatened and a months-old dead body is found in the sea, Grace puts the pieces together - almost, but not quite, right, allowing the author to ratchet up the tension right up to the last few pages, even though the whole set-up is pretty obvious.
As with the two previous Grace books, NOT DEAD ENOUGH is certainly a page-turner: a perfect holiday read. The author knows Brighton in great detail; the local colour as well as the sympathetic inside-view of the working lives of modern police officers lift the book well above the 'run of the mill' definition that the rather standard plot would otherwise demand. There are some nice touches about the state of the local hospital and the attitude of the social services: a constant smattering of vignettes like these throughout the book keeps the reader in touch with the characters and engrossed in the milieu in which they operate. I'm still hooked on this heady Peter Turnbull/Harlan Coben-like mix of police procedural, thrills and spills, and am looking forward to Grace's next outing, though I hope that next time there will be more of a challenge in the detection department.
Read another review of NOT DEAD ENOUGH.
Maxine Clarke, England