DMF“If Ronnie Wilson had known, as he woke up, that in just a couple of hours he would be dead, he would have planned his day somewhat differently.”

I have returned with a newfound speed to Peter James’ series of novels about Brighton policeman Roy Grace. This may exclude a few of you readers who haven’t yet read the first three books in this series – in order, Dead Simple, Looking Good Dead and Not Dead Enough – so read on at your own peril, although I don’t think there is much I can particularly spoil. Yes, there is an ongoing arc through the series, but in this book it takes a backseat. Perhaps try my review for the similiarly named Dead Man’s Folly instead. In either case, I am about to start gushing as soon as I’ve given you a basic outline of the plot.

Ronnie Wilson is one of Brighton’s criminal underclass, but he’s not a particularly successful one. He has arrived in New York with the plan of meeting with one of his contacts and getting him to work with him again, and this time he’s certain that they’ll all be rolling in it. Unfortunately, the meeting never occurs because Ronnie has picked the worst moment to be in New York: it’s 2001, and it’s the morning of September 11th. Surviving the terrible events that follow, he decides that this may actually be a good thing for him – he can fake his own death, clear his debts and start again, even if that means abandoning his devoted wife back home.

Six years later, back in Brighton, a young woman called Abby Dawson is hidden away in her triple-locked flat, scared and alone. It’s clear she’s had to change her appearance and shouldn’t be there, but it’s hard to say why or who she really is. Fears that the man she’s running from have found her become magnified when she gets stuck in the broken lift of her block of flats. She’s got something he wants, and she knows that he’ll stop at nothing to get it back.

Elsewhere in Brighton, DS Roy Grace is called to a storm drain on a building site where a skeleton has been found, dead for many years and with a broken neck. Someone murdered her, and it’s now time for him and his team to seek out some clues of this tragic event, despite the fact that the trail of clues seems to have run cold almost immediately. Throw into this the issues of his new colleague, the slimy Cassian Pewe, his new relationship with mortician Cleo, and his best friend Glenn apparently on the verge of divorce, Grace is suddenly thrown into a busy investigation that will take his team halfway around the world in an effort to solve the case.

Let gushing commence!

I think I said last time that it took me four years to read the first three Roy Grace novels and that was a mistake, which has led to the progressively shorter times between each installment. They’re all dense, thick books, each one easily topping 500 pages, but the writing flows so magnificently that the pages just melt away from under you as you’re caught up in the intricate storylines. The three plots I’ve given above seem, at first, to have nothing to do with one another, but as the book continues, James ties them all up neatly, as he always does, and often in ways that you simply don’t expect.

Grace remains an infinitely likeable man who knows his duty and will do it whatever the cost. The cast of secondary characters, however, is what really brings the whole thing to life. Each character is introduced with their appearance and vague notes of personality, but it never feels like it’s been shoehorned in. Exposition happens naturally, and lets us see what these people are like. There’s a large cast but in each book different ones seem to take centre stage. In this one, for example, Grace’s relationship with girlfriend Cleo is never a big issue, whereas for the last few books it has been shown in some detail. This book also has the wonderful (in literary terms) introduction of Cassian Pewe, a police officer from the Met who has joined Grace in Sussex. Pewe should have arrived two books previously but was in a car crash relating to a case Grace was on, so has only just been able to join in the fun. In the manner of Professor Umbridge from the Harry Potter books, he is perfectly described in full technicolour slimy, oily, vile brilliance, a suck-up who doesn’t like being told what to do and seems determined to undermine Grace at every turn. Grace, however, can give as good as he gets, and also has more respect than Pewe from most of the staff, with the possible exception of Alison Vosper, his and Pewe’s boss who favours Pewe in every area.

The tragedy at the World Trade Center is also handled marvellously and takes you deep into the action and the drama that unfolded in the first minutes, hours and days after that first plane hit. While Ronnie is far from a sympathetic character, he displays well the shock, anger and abject horror of the events in a completely understandable way. The book also honours the NYPD and FDNY, showing how tirelessly they worked to help restore order and bring calm to the city and the world after that fateful day.

It’s a fast, engaging read, and there are few authors I enjoy spending as much time with as Peter James. His style is conversational, chatty, but his research is second to none and every character and location is fully realised and three dimensional. Given the impossibly gripping cliffhanger ending, expect the fifth installment of the series on the blog by the end of the year.

If you want to read more of my writing, please download my debut novel The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, available for all ebook platforms from Amazon, iTunes and other ebook retailers.