There aren't enough zombie crime novels. This isn't one, either.

There aren’t enough zombie crime novels. This isn’t one, either.

“Darkness took a long time to arrive, but it was worth the wait.”

In a jarring change from a pastoral Britain ruled by toads and badgers, I’ve shifted to last decade’s Brighton to read another of my favourite authors. Despite having only read two of his books before (the two that come before this in this particular series), I am definitely a Peter James fan. The big appeal comes from the fact that all the action takes place in Brighton and the surrounding towns, which means the characters are all in places that I know well.

This is the third book of the Roy Grace series (there’s a review of the second one here), and while you don’t need to have read the first two to enjoy it, there is a story that runs through them all, some of which may go over your head if you start here. In this one, Katie Bishop has been found tied to her bed: naked, wearing a gas mask and, most importantly, dead. Murdered.

Her husband, Brian Bishop, is the primary suspect and he is quickly whisked from his golf tournament to be informed of his wife’s death. He claims that he was in London when the murder happened, but Grace, the DSI in charge of the case, thinks he might be lying. Without enough evidence to charge him, Grace and his team begin to compile a case against him, and when a second body turns up, this time with DNA evidence left at the scene, the noose tightens and Grace begins to think he’s got his man.

On top of all this, Grace’s fledgling relationship with mortician Cleo Morey hits its first stumbling blocks when his best mate Glenn moves in after being kicked out of the family home, and another friend has just called to tell Grace that he thinks he saw his wife in Munich – news that comes as a particular surprise as Grace’s wife Sandy has been missing for nine years. Should Grace go looking for her, or has he finally begun to get over her mysterious absence?

James breaks one of the cardinal rules of crime fiction in this novel, but the story is so compelling that frankly I almost forgot to care. After all, Agatha Christie broke basically every single rule there was, and that’s what makes her the Queen of Crime. If not the King, James is certainly a regal prince of some kind. I’m wary to say much more about the plot because I don’t want to give anything away, but despite the fact the book is just over six hundred pages long, it never feels like that. It’s the first book in a long time that I’ve set aside extra time devoted specifically to reading. James’ style is easy, chatty and informal, despite the large amounts of official police terminology used. He’s a man who has clearly done his research. This isn’t a world where the policemen can only solve the crime after being taken off the force, but one where everything has to happen by the book and the policemen are shown as heroes, which is something we need to see sometimes these days, given the stories of police brutality you hear in the media.

James seems to have a fascination with the minutia, which is far from a complaint. Every character is introduced with a physical description and often a little bit of backstory, and it really helps build up a picture of the world we’re inhabiting, and never feels like it’s in the way. The books are most certainly set in the real world, using actual locations and a liberal sprinkling of brand names and references to modern novels and TV shows. The stories feel real, with little extra conversations and events that don’t seem to do anything to the plot, but just help make the thing feel more like it’s really happening, because in the real world people aren’t always sitting there waiting to help you, and don’t always have the right information to hand. Sure, there are a couple of coincidences within the novel, but you can overlook them because they are built up in such a way that they don’t feel contrived. Roy Grace is one of my favourite characters in fiction, and that’s no exaggeration, and you find yourself continually rooting for him, in both his personal and professional lives.

It’s taken me four years to read the first three books in this series. Why? These books are genius.