21 March 2008
NOT DEAD ENOUGH, Peter James
Socialite Katie Bishop drives a BMW and lives in a mansion of a house on Dyke Road Avenue, Brighton, guarded by big wrought iron gates. But wealth, social status and privacy don't protect her when she becomes the target of a murderer while her husband is out playing golf. More than that Katie seems to have been participating in some rather kinky sex before she died.
Brian Bishop is playing a blinder when he is interrupted on the ninth hole by Detective Sergeant Glenn Branson of Sussex CID with the news that at 8.30 that morning his cleaning lady discovered the body of his wife Katie. Back at chez Bishop, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is supervising the scene of the crime.
On the face of it, Brian Bishop was well away from Brighton, in fact in London, at the time his wife was murdered. He had been to dinner in Piccadilly with his financial adviser, and then gone back to his London flat to sleep. Why then doesn't he want to admit that he spent most of the night with Sophie Harrington? Why is Sophie under surveillance? To Roy Grace's team there are things about Brian Bishop that are worth watching.
This is a long novel, but it takes Peter James quite a while to set up all the threads of the main plot. For me the novel moved quite slowly for about the first half, but then it fairly rocketed along, tension building, so you really want to know happens next. And don't worry if you think you have it all sussed out 100 pages from the end - you haven't. For me there were a couple of threads that James didn't quite tie up properly, and a bit of paranormal that I found it hard to swallow, but that didn't reduce my ultimate feeling of satisfaction as most things came together.
There's a lot built into this novel apart from the serial murders being investigated. His wife Sandy disappeared from their house just over nine years ago, on the evening of his 30th birthday. Despite the fact that he is very friendly with the Chief Mortician, Grace is constantly wondering what became of Sandy. These thoughts intrude at moments when he should be focussing on a post mortem or the particulars of a case. He has even consulted psychics in the hope of learning something. Roy Grace comes over as very human, likeable, and just a little bit flawed. And his team think that way too. In the opening pages his Sergeant Glenn Branson turns up on his doorstep when his wife Ari throws him out. His young DC Nick Nicholl is a new parent who is finding the reality of having a baby at home doesn't do much for his sleep. Other members of his team are given chances to show their true worth, even when Grace recognises their short comings. The thing that comes across about Roy Grace above all is that he is prepared to go to bat for what he believes in, and is above all fair to the members of his team. He cares deeply about their welfare.
Two things that I want to remember for a while: Roy Grace's firm belief in a suspect's eye movements revealing their guilt. This is something he is converting his team to believe in. Grace has a love/hate relationship with his ACC Alison Vosper. When there is a stumbling block in the evidence she says "that's the elephant in the room" - wonderful mental picture!
The characters in LOOKING GOOD DEAD are comprehensively drawn, pulling the reader into a fiction that feels a lot like real life. I am looking forward to the 4th title in the series, DEAD MAN's FOOTSTEPS, due out in June 2008.
The Roy Grace series began when Peter James consulted publishers at Pan MacMillan who suggested that he branch out into a detective series. To that point he had been writing thrillers which didn't seem to have much of a market. He decided to set the series in Brighton where he lives, with a central character who is "a bit of an oddball": a missing wife and a belief in the supernatural. I believe he was originally contracted to write a series of 3 novels. The first in the series DEAD SIMPLE (published 2005) has been translated into 28 languages. The second was LOOKING GOOD DEAD (2006).
Peter James' own website is at http://www.peterjames.com/ and contains many of the interviews he has given, articles he has written, his blog, a newsletters, blurbs about all of his books, and extracts from Roy Grace novels.
Check my other posting which was a progress report.
My rating: 4.8