Would look better alive…

“The front door of the once-proud terraced house opened, and a long-legged young woman, in a short silk dress that seemed to both cling and float at the same time, stepped out into the fine June sunshine on the last morning of her life.”

I read the first book in this series, Dead Simple, back in 2011 and enjoyed it. I think the biggest appeal was that the main character, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, is a policeman in Brighton, which is my local area. Both that book and this one are set entirely around the city and its surrounding towns. Some streets are described in so much detail that I know exactly where they are. In fact, I read some of this on Brighton beach while Grace was doing his morning run along the seafront. I could follow him both in and out of the book.

Anyway, what we have here is a police procedual crime novel. It opens with several characters – Janie Stretton, Tom Bryce, Roy Grace – switching between their points of view. Janie is murdered not long after her introduction, her body cut up and dumped in a field in the nearby town of Peacehaven. Tom picks up a CD that gets abandoned on the London to Brighton train and, putting it into his computer, is treated to a front row view of the murder, leading to his life being threatened. And Roy Grace is the poor copper in charge of the whole sorry mess.

Tom is threatened by the owners of the DVD – if he goes to the police, he and his wife, Kellie, will be killed. Tom keeps quiet for a time, but then when Janie’s murder becomes widely known, he feels he has no option but to help the police with their enquires. After all, he may be the only person who actually saw what happened. Or is he?

The novel picks up a few days after where the last one left off, with the fallout from that case still reverberating with Grace and his team. This one probably covers the events of four or five days at most, and in fact most of it occurs over a single Sunday. James can pack a lot of action into that time though, easily swapping between central characters, dedicating different chapters to different people, usually one of three or four, but some more minor characters get their day in the limelight too when none of the main guys are around and we need to see what’s happening.

I like the fact that every character is introduced with a quick description of their appearance, giving you the same first impression as the people in the books. Even Roy Grace, the “hero” of the lot, gets this treatment once when Tom meets him for the first time. The writing flows nicely and it doesn’t feel like a 500+ page book at all. It’s heavy subject matter, but light reading despite that. By the time you finish, you’ve dealt with murder, child pornography, paedophilia, kidnapping and far too many beetles, and yet the ending remains satisfying and the feelings of disgust will pass. Maybe there are too many beheadings in this book…

All in all, I love a good crime romp and because this one is set locally, it throws in an extra dimension of fun as I can see the characters getting to work in Brighton, Hove, Worthing, Lewes and other assorted locations. Roy Grace is a very likeable character with a curious love and belief in the paranormal, dealing with his own demons. His wife disappeared nine years ago and has never been found. He still struggles with it now, but appears to at least have found some company in Cleo Morley who works in the nearby mortuary.

A great crime thriller from one of the best authors in the industry.