How far would you go to save someone you love?

How far would you go to save someone you love?

“Susan hated the motorbike.”

I’m back to Brighton’s Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, and realising that it’s been far too long. This is the fifth installment in the series after Dead Simple, Looking Good Dead, Not Dead Enough and Dead Man’s Footsteps. All but the first are also on this blog, so if you’re concerned about what happened previously in the series, then start back there. But, really, while there is a story arc connecting them all, it rarely plays a massive part and they can be read without prior knowledge. Each one centres around a very different case, and introduces a whole host of new characters as well as the familiar police officers.

In the fifth book, we once again meet a group of characters who had first seem to have nothing to do with one another. There’s Roy Grace, the detective who will be put in charge of the cases in the novel, a decent, hard-working copper who has just been blown away after learning that his girlfriend Cleo is pregnant. There’s Lynn Beckett and her daughter Caitlin, who desperately needs a liver transplant. There’s Simona, a poor drug-taking girl living on the streets of Bucharest and dreaming of a different life, perhaps escaping to England now that they’re in the EU. There’s the shady figure who spends his evenings in Brighton’s casinos, and has just had a nasty phone call telling him that someone is very disappointed in him…

Roy Grace is struggling with a new case. A body has been dredged up from the English channel, a teenager who appears to have recently undergone surgery and is missing all of his vital organs. Worried there are more, the police search the area and find two more bodies, both in a very similar state. Perhaps they’re ritual killings, or perhaps they’re evidence of someone trading in illegal organ brokering. Lynn Beckett is at the end of her tether and is desperate to save her daughter’s life. When the NHS fails her, she turns to the Internet and finds a company that claims to be able to source any organ required within a week, but it comes at an enormous price. The characters and stories soon find themselves twisting together as their threads become entangled and no one is ready to give up on getting what they want any time soon.

I’ll probably end up repeating myself here, spouting things I’ve already said about Peter James and this series. This is the longest book of them all so far, at around 650 pages, but it never feels it. The pacing is wonderful, and you’re pulled along with the plot as you try and work out how everyone is connected and how it’ll all tie together. Jame has such a natural voice that he’s an easy read, even if some of the material is a bit strong. This is definitely not a book for the weak-willed, as there are a few particularly graphic scenes, some of a sexual nature, that some readers may find disturbing or uncomfortable. Just fair warning, I feel. Otherwise, the book has the same perks as the others in the series.

What makes them so good? They’re set so solidly in the real world. Researched to within an inch of its life, the book portrays a realistic world of police work and the criminal underclass. The world is very much ours, and James makes strong use of brands, companies, music and film to bring it to life. The characters, even minor ones, are given personality and are all introduced with their appearance, habits and some of their backstory. Even when you encounter a chapter that gives the point of view of a character you never see again, you feel you get to know them. Every character has their own history and struggles, be it the marriage troubles of Norman Potting or Glenn Branson, or the stresses and strains of the job seen through the eyes of E-J Boutwood who is still recovering from a car accident two or three books previously. Clothes are described in detail, and rooms are painted clearly for us.

The themes in the book are pretty deep and serious, covering human trafficking, child prostitution, illegal organ harvesting, and liver disease, but while some of the characters use gallows humour to get through the horrors of their day, the subjects are all dealt with respectfully and somberly. James is unlikely to offend anyone, but will almost certainly make you think.

Peter James is a marvel, and I’m still very much enjoying the adventures of Roy Grace, one of the finest police officers in fiction. Gripping from the first page, I could hardly put the book down. It’s compelling, addictive and will have you rooting for the good guys throughout, even if it’s not always clear exactly who they are.