Driven by revenge

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Old 22-Jul-2011
Driven by revenge

UNP ImageOK, I begrudgingly admit it — I am a Peter James fan. Well, not so much of Peter James but of Detective Superintendent Roy Grace of the Sussex police force and the manner in which he fights crime in and around Brighton.

I have been to Brighton several times, and it rained. It rained, giving the town a rather dingy feel — with all the miserable quality of a British seaside town in rainy and damp kiss-me-quick hats, hard rock and seedy arcades.

Peter James's Dead Man's Grip is a delightful thriller that centres on a road accident in which an American student is killed. But, of course, he is the son of a New York mafia family who will go to any attempt to exact bloody revenge on those believed to be responsible for the tragedy.

The driver of the ubiquitous white Ford Transit van is drowned, his fingers glued to the steering wheel as it slowly submerges under the cold, salty waters off Brighton. A Scottish truck driver is filleted and smoked, just like the salmon he was carrying when the accident happened.

And a third participant in the action, a female solicitor who turned out to be drunk from a bad dinner date the night before, is the obvious next target. Or is she?

Roy Grace is a believable character. Sadly, though, his wife thought missing and presumed dead is actually living near Munich, and I suspect that she will be making an appearance in the next novel in this series of seven Dead books so far. Let me guess "Dead Ringer"?

Some of the characters who appear in other murder mysteries of the Dead series also return — the taxi driver with a fetish for shoes and the annoying gum-chewing reporter for The Argus — but that is rather the appeal of this series.

Brighton, as we are often reminded, is the murder capital of the United Kingdom, so there is a lot of fodder for James to play with. Indeed, the fact that it is but an hour's train ride from London also makes it an ideal setting for murder and mayhem — a small city with a small-town feel that has a rich tapestry of characters on which to draw.

There is a charm about British seaside resorts in the summer — picnics and folding chairs on stone-washed beaches and rotting seaweed above the tide line.

In winter, these resorts are dead. Or in James's life, "Dead" as in the series for Roy Grace.

The tired and worn industrial areas, decaying harbours and abandoned sites provide a fertile killing ground for those which Roy Grace fights against. But he also fights against the police bureaucracy in the Sussex Constabulary, those who are political climbers rather than policemen at heart.

One of the joys of reading James's work is that the chapters are short and to the point — no excess words. It is easy to set them down, pick them up for a few minutes, then walk away again. I will have a place reserved in my bedside locker for the next in the series, and I hope it comes soon.

James's knowledge of policing work is clear and he obviously has the backing of the powers that be, providing rich details on the methodology of solving cases the old-fashioned way but using all the tools of new technology.

If he is to be believed, every car licence plate in the UK can be tracked with relative ease.

But then those who read James will know that in the mind of an organised and professional killer, there is always a way around subverting this surveillance. That is why I am also a fan.

It is believable.

Dead Man's Grip
By Peter James,
544 pages,

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