You Are Dead | Peter James | 2015 | Macmillan | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book
Logan Somervile knows she is not alone when she arrives in her building’s underground car park in Brighton. Frightened, she calls her fiance Nick Walton. But to his horror, Nick answers only to hear the screams of the woman he loves as she is stolen away. On the same day, during building work, the remains of a woman long dead are found under the pathway to the Big Beach Cafe. During the postmorten, a branded mark is found burnt into the woman’s forehead. It’s not long before another long dead body is found and another young woman is abducted. However unlikely it may seem, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace becomes convinced that the two cases are linked – that a serial killer who got away with murder thirty years before is back to terrorise Brighton.
You are Dead is the eleventh novel in Peter James’s highly successful Roy Grace series but, I’m afraid to say, it is my first. As a newbie to crime fiction it’s important to me that I can dive into a series wherever I choose and then, should I wish, buy up the back list to catch up in leisure. This works extremely well here. The book made me feel at home with the characters straight away. There are two major themes that run through the novel which have their roots in the past – the funeral of a police office who died in the line of duty during the previous novel and the longstanding story of the disappearance of Roy’s first wife Sandy ten years ago. It was very easy to catch up with these strands without worrying about what I’d missed but they also made me very keen to go back and catch up. Roy is now remarried – hopefully to someone who will remain extremely understanding about his long days – with a baby son. The events of You Are Dead take place while this new family is busy moving house into the country. The Sandy story line has therefore become extremely sensitive as Roy begins his new life. There are developments here that could have repercussions in the future. It’s very hard to look away from this story, feeling as we do for Roy and, after all this time, Sandy.
The mystery at the heart of You Are Dead is a gripping one. This is a race against time. Roy is sure that Logan is still alive, that the murderer wants to play games with the police, almost that he wants to leave clues. There are red herrings, as you’d expect, but they are particularly teasing. The novel follows three narratives, that of Roy’s investigation, of Logan’s suffering and another which dips into the mind of the killer. This movement keeps the pace fast and the tension high.
I enjoyed the complexity of the murder investigation. Roy Grace is a very senior detective and he runs a fascinating case, dealing with an irritating senior officer (although I think he’s slowly warming to him) but deftly handling many lines of inquiry. His team is clearly very fond of him, united as they all are in the funeral of their colleague which plays such an important part in this novel, forming its heart. The investigation itself is meticulously presented, the team integrated, the clues well presented. This is a great police procedural.
I did guess some of the ending, but not enough of it to spoil it. There was more of a sense of waiting for Grace to catch up with our insight as we were given the benefit of being a step ahead. But there are shocks in store, nonetheless.
My only issue with the novel is with some of the dialogue, especially between Roy and his wife Cleo, but also between Roy and members of his team. It’s all very loving and a little cloying – there are lots of ‘darlings’ and ‘dears’. Having said that, it was really rather pleasant to read a novel in which there were far fewer swear words. So, if I had to choose one above the other, I’d keep the ‘darlings’.
I thoroughly enjoyed You Are Dead. It is a confident and polished novel, incorporating a fine depiction of the police at work, backed up by the personal stories of Roy, a man I liked very much indeed, and his colleagues. Very few people feel as if they are just a name. I liked the Brighton setting very much and the mystery itself was extremely intriguing. I will definitely be keeping my eye on Roy Grace in the future. I’ve already bought a few more from the series to investigate.