“Not Dead Yet” by Peter James (2012)

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“I am warning you, and I won’t repeat this warning.”

I’ve been working my way through Peter James’ series for a few years now, slowly but surely. If you want reviews for the previous ones in the series, then they’re here, and because they’re a continuation, there may be some spoilers here regarding the series as a whole. If you’re not interested in the underlying plot – and the books are enjoyable enough without it – then feel free to carry on, but you have been warned.

In the eighth installment of the series, we meet another collection of colourful characters all involved in a series of plots that, at first glance, have very little to do with one another. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace has found himself leading a new case wherein a body has been found on a chicken farm, missing its head and limbs. The police are struggling to identify the body, with little to go on but a swatch of a very unusually patterned fabric. Elsewhere, Brighton is preparing to host a film crew ready to shoot their new movie about King George IV and his mistress Maria Fitzherbert, but the producer Larry Brooker is facing difficulties from a man who claims that Larry stole the script from him, and his temperamental lead actress, the pop star Gaia Lafayette.

Gaia herself has some problems, as one of her assistants has just been murdered outside her Bel Air home, and the police there believe that the perpetrator was intending to kill the star. And this is still all before we’ve got to Gaia’s number one fan, Anna, who has convinced herself that Gaia is communicating secretly with her; Eric, the strange and insular auditor who is beginning to rub the police up the wrong way; and two figures from Roy’s past that are back on the streets of Brighton, each with their own reasons for keeping an eye on Sussex Police’s golden boy.

As ever, James makes good use of the environment of Brighton and Hove, one of my favourite cities. His attention to detail is brilliant and his research is meticulous. He manages to combine a very rigorously described police inquiry with genuinely sympathetic characters who we grow to care about. After eight books now with many of the same faces, each of them develops more and more depth. Although they all could easily be written off with a singular defining trait – Glenn is a movie buff, Bella is consigned to a life looking after her mother, Norman is an old-fashioned copper with old-fashioned ideas – each of them has three very remarkably played out dimensions, and very little in this world is black and white. Some of the new characters are great too, including Gaia, a global icon in the vein of Lady Gaga, who shows real humanity beneath her public persona, and Larry Brooker, the Hollywood producer who can’t see why a dead body should hold up his production schedule. He’s so oblivious, but you just know that there are people out there like that. The kind of people who say “time is money” without irony.

Eight books in, we also begin to see some old plot threads begin to weave themselves together. Kevin Spinella, the ruthless and slimy journalist who always seems to immediately know what the police know, finally meets his match. There are unexpected relationships slowly being exposed, thus bringing about more depth and character development, and some long-held secrets from early in the series are finally revealed to the reader, but they only further some mysteries and don’t necessarily wrap things up as neatly as you’d hope. Fortunately, I’m not bothered – it just makes me even more intrigued.

The crime story is wrapped up well with a reminder to never ignore coincidences, but the ending itself is really rather sinister, but definitely builds up the interest for carrying on, which I undoubtedly will be.


“Dead Man’s Grip” by Peter James (2011)

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“On the morning of the accident, Carly had forgotten to set the alarm and overslept.”

It’s only been a month since I last read Peter James, which makes a change from seemingly having a year or so between each outing. There may be a couple of spoiler-y points below as this is the seventh in the series, so if you’re really interested in protecting your narrative interests, go back and read up to this point. If you’re not fussed, then please, continue!

One rainy morning in Brighton, Tony Revere is killed on his bike in a road traffic collision. The vehicles involved are a car with a drunk driver, an articulated lorry with a driver who is overtired, and a white van that lost its wing mirror and quickly fled from the scene. The tragic event is made worse, however, when it turns out that Tony Revere is the grandson of New York’s current Mafia “Godfather”, and his family have some powerful connections.

Upon learning about the death of their son, the Revere’s set about plotting revenge. DS Roy Grace and his team are trying to find the driver of the white van, but when they do find him, it’s too late, he’s already dead. Not long later, the body of the lorry driver is found too, brutally murdered in a very inventive manner. Carly Chase, the surviving driver of the collision, is told that she should go into hiding and may even have to change her name and start a new life to avoid being killed, as someone has clearly got it in for anyone involved in the death of Tony Revere. But Carly is determined that she will not be scared underground, a decision she may come to regret as a mother’s worst fears begin to be realised…

Once again, Peter James makes use of his astounding attention to detail, bringing every single location, character and plot point to a fully three-dimensional state. While the main characters of Roy Grace, Cleo Morey and Glenn Branson are all excellent and hugely developed, there aren’t any characters, really, who simply fade into the background. Almost all characters have a name and are introduced with an appearance description and some nugget of information or two about them, even if we only see them for one chapter. The exposition never feels heavy-handed though, just incredibly immersive.

I am becoming increasingly fond of the characters Norman Potting and Kevin Spinella. Neither of them are pleasant people – Norman is on his fourth marriage and still has old-fashioned views on sex and race, and Kevin is every inch the kind of journalist that gives the rest a bad name – but they still manage to be somewhat sympathetic. Norman, for example, seems to be experiencing the breakdown of his latest marriage, and despite his views, remains an excellent copper and seems to be very lonely, spending more time at work than necessary so that he can feel wanted. Kevin is nasty, but here you can’t help feel a little sorry for him when Roy lashes out at him; it is his job to sell newspapers, of course. ACC Rigg, Roy’s boss, is also a great addition to the series.

James’s level of detail is not limited only to descriptions, but also he’s very aware of the history of these characters. Throughout, references are made of the cases in the previous books. A lesser writer would have them forgotten about, but here some of them are just starting to go through the courts. There’s also a really smart insertion of a character from the previous novel who got away with his crimes and is still living unmolested in Brighton. His name isn’t given, but it’s quite obvious who it is. Little touches like this are smart, and bring home the fact that all these stories are taking place in the same city, so there are bound to be some overlaps. We also get to learn a little more about Roy’s missing ex-wife Sandy, and James knows how to end on a cliffhanger, for sure.

The story does take a little while to get going, I felt, but once the killings start, things are impressively gory and the methods of execution are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I’d worry about what goes on in James’s head, if it wasn’t for the fact I don’t want them to stop. The fact that the minutia of the novel is so realistic means that when the more bizarre incidents occur, you completely buy them, no matter how scary or shocking.

Seven books down, and the thirteenth has just been released. I’d better get a move on.

If you like tales of macabre murders, may I be so bold as to suggest my novel, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, which gives murder a slightly more magical twist.

“Dead Like You” by Peter James (2010)


Roy Grace is on the hunt of a monster…

“We all make mistakes, all of the time.”

This is another one of those reviews that focuses on a book that’s part of a series. Unfortunately, unlike Poirot which can be read in any order, Peter James’ Roy Grace novels form a coherent narrative so some of what I say may not make sense if you haven’t read the first five novels in the series, although this one is actually a bit less about the ongoing plot.

All caught up? Good, let’s carry on.

In 1997, a serial rapist known to police and the media as the Shoe Man due to his habit of taking one of his victim’s shoes after each crime attacked several women, leaving their lives ruined. The final of these was Rachael Ryan, who saw his face, condemning her to death as he couldn’t let her go and run to the police. Twelve years later, there’s another rapist prowling around Brighton’s streets, with a very similar MO.

When women report being raped, DS Roy Grace sets about trying to piece together the story, but he overwhelmed by his feeling that this is the same man as before. Convinced that history is repeating itself, and keen to impress his new boss Peter Rigg, Grace rounds up  his finest men and women to set about putting this monster behind bars once and for all. But the rapist is clever, and all too aware of forensic evidence, seeming to never leave any behind. All they know for sure about him is that he’s obsessed with women in expensive shoes. With this one connection between all the attacks, Roy begins to solve the puzzle, but the answers may lie in the past, back when he was married, back before his wife disappeared…

Roy Grace is far and away one of my favourite fictional detectives. Hard-working, fair, competent and smart, he always comes up trumps, even if he takes a few wrong turnings along the way, and his “copper’s nose” is incredibly good at sniffing out the answers. Throughout this one, he remains convinced that the events of 1997 are related to what’s happening now, and the novel straddles the two time periods well, finally giving us a chance to see a younger Roy, as well as get to know his wife Sandy a little better. While in the earlier books Roy pines for Sandy (at this point, he’s now engaged again and his partner, Cleo, is pregnant), I found her to be a completely unsympathetic character. I don’t quite see how they ever managed to be married – but then, people come together for all sorts of reasons.

As usual, Peter James populates the book with numerous characters, each introduced with their own description and fleshed out more than just a name on the page. As I’ve surely said before, the books are incredibly real and very rich in their level of detail. Conversations that have no bearing on the plot save to reveal something about a character are fairly common, but the story doesn’t get lost among them. Despite clocking it at over 600 pages, it felt like it passed by a lot quicker.

That’s the real beauty of James’s writing. His novels are not small but the writing style is so quick and comfortable that you skip through it, desperate to know what happens next and almost feeling “at home” in his prose, despite whatever gory, macabre or twisted thing he happens to be writing about. And he has quite the imagination.

I’d solved the bulk of the crime a long time before it was revealed, but James still produces a hell of an ending with a remarkably good little extra flourish. The next book in the series sits on my shelf, ready and waiting.

If you like tales of macabre murders, may I be so bold as to suggest my novel, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, which gives murder a slightly more magical twist.

“Dead Tomorrow” by Peter James (2009)


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.

“Dead Man’s Footsteps” by Peter James (2008)


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.

“Not Dead Enough” by Peter James (2007)


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.

“Looking Good Dead” by Peter James (2006)



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.