Written by Peter James — Earlier this year, Peter James was voted Best Crime Writer of All Time by followers of the WH Smith blog, taking the title by a landslide. His hugely popular Roy Grace detective novels have sold over 16 million copies worldwide and been translated into 36 languages, while a couple of his stories have been turned into stage plays including Dead Simple, based on the first novel to feature Grace and of the same name.
With You Are Dead, the series now numbers 11 books and it shows no signs of ending anytime soon. Fans of the author and his Detective Superintendent hero will be glad to make their acquaintance again, although if you’re coming to the series cold as I did, then there is something of that disconnected and slightly scary feeling of being the new kid in school.
The action all takes place in just over a month and our story begins on 12 December, as the people of Brighton are scurrying about in the torrential rain, buying last minute gifts and stocking up their freezers in preparation for the looming Christmas binge-fest. Chiropractor Logan Somerville has had the day from hell and just wants to get home and open a bottle of wine. But as she drives into the dark and usually deserted car park under the block of flats where she lives with her fiancé, Logan is alarmed when a figure lunges towards her car. Her panicked call to boyfriend Jamie is enough to make him call the police. He is miles away, stuck in traffic on his way home from work, and is convinced Logan is in trouble.
There is no sign of her when the police arrive, but the discovery of an oily footprint and the fact that her car is locked with her phone abandoned inside it, are enough to get an investigation rolling. Could be she’s just gone off with some friends for a festive drink, perhaps? Meanwhile, Grace has his mind on a crime that has definitely been committed, albeit some 30 years ago. The skeletal remains of a young woman are found by workmen excavating a path which was laid in the 1970s. Who is she? And why does she have the phrase U R Dead branded to the bone, prompting the police to dub the culprit the Brighton Brander?
There is still no sign of Logan and it isn’t long before another young woman disappears. As Grace begins to slot the pieces together, he realises he could have a serial killer on his hands, someone who is targeting young women with long, dark hair. Which is all he needs as he and his second wife Cleo prepare to move to a new home with their baby son Noah. The stresses and marital strains of combining a hugely high-profile career with a fledgling marriage are well drawn here and there are times when you fully expect Cleo to give her husband an ear-bashing. The domestic dramas serve as a welcome counterpoint to the ever-more-complex crime narrative.
Grace fans will know all about the saga of Roy’s long-missing wife Sandy; suffice to say that plotline is given a dust-off again in You Are Dead. This may be good news to the cognoscenti but could be viewed as a bit of an unwanted detour for anyone reading this book stand alone. I was expecting great things from You Are Dead but unfortunately it is rather disappointing. Some the narrative quirks are a tad annoying and I worked out the whodunit and some of the ‘whys’ quite early on. The WH Smith voters will love this book, I’m sure, but if Peter James has previously passed you by then I’d recommend starting the series from the beginning rather than jumping in midstream.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars