Macmillan | 2018 | 389p (in Hb) | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book
Brighton and Hove Albion is about to play one of the biggest football games in its history – the team is to play its first Premier League match and it’ll take place in Albion’s magnificent new home, Amex Stadium. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is there with his son Bruno and so too is local businessman Kipp Brown. Kipp Brown lives in a world of stress and it’s all because of his gambling habit. He’s lost almost everything – it’s just that the world doesn’t know it yet. An afternoon at the football with his son Mungo will provide relief, if only for a few hours, but, in the time it takes for Kipp to greet a client, Mungo disappears. A message follows that the teenage boy has been kidnapped. Kipp must pay or Mungo will be killed. Elsewhere in the stadium, just a few rows in front of Roy Grace, a man acts suspiciously and walks out leaving his expensive camera unattended. Security detects an explosive device. The countdown has begun.
Roy Grace has no choice but to think that these two unusual crimes must be related, although it’s impossible to see how. As he oversees the investigations – and more are added as Brighton endures an unparalleled run of serious crimes – Grace finds himself caught up in Brighton’s underworld of crime, torture, murder and revenge. Grace might be the boss but he’s always hands on. Lives depend on it.
Dead If You Don’t is the fourteenth novel in Peter James’s long-running and ever popular series featuring Brighton Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. This is the sixth I’ve read and, while I have found a couple of them more miss than hit (including the last one Need You Dead), I’m delighted to say that Dead If You Don’t is excellent and most certainly the best of those that I’ve read, giving the series some of the oomph that it needed. This might be partly because the series – and Roy – has now moved on from Sandy, a figure from Roy’s past who has overshadowed the novels for such a long time. I’m so glad to see her gone! There are hints that there may be issues to come with Roy’s son Bruno but, for the time being, these are left to simmer in the background. For now we can focus on the crimes at hand and they are corking!
Dead If You Don’t has a fantastic plot. Brighton (such a good setting for the series) is facing multiple crimes and they weave in and out through the novel. The narrative moves along with them. It can be a little difficult in the early chapters to keep track of the individuals we meet but it’s well worth paying attention because this story soon takes off. The danger is both targeted and general. The opening chapters in the Amex Stadium are so gripping. I read it compulsively, reminding me of the lesson of not to start thrillers late at night. Fast, short chapters hurl us along. Roy Grace frantically tries to retain control. He’s as breathless as we are.
Dead If You Don’t doesn’t have the sentimental streak of some of the other novels. The focus is very much away from Grace’s family, on crime, and the focus is welcome and very effective. Peter James writes thrillers very well indeed, as can be seen by the recent and brilliant Absolute Proof, a thriller I enjoyed very much indeed in 2018. Those skills are used well in Dead If You Don’t. The baddies are horrible – as they should be – and there are scenarios here that… well, just the thought of them, makes me go pale. They certainly shocked me.
Now that Grace has moved on from the past, my love of this series has been reborn. Packed with suspense, action and intrigue, with so much going on, Dead If You Don’t promises much for the future of Roy Grace and this popular series.