Macmillan | 2019 (16 May) | 448p | Review copy | Buy the book
A retired army major waits at Gatwick Airport to meet the love of his life off a flight from Munich. John Fordwater met Ingrid Ostermann using an online dating agency. They’ve communicated for months, grown so close, John has even helped Ingrid out with some sizeable loans. And now they’re to meet at last. But, no matter how long he waits, Ingrid doesn’t show up. There’s a very good reason, as police are about to reveal to John. Ingrid doesn’t exist. He is just one of many men and women, usually retirees, to fall victim to organised scammers. It’s a scam that reaps in millions of pounds.
But something is upsetting this fraudulent world. People are starting to die. A woman is found hanged in Brighton but Detective Superintendent Roy Grace does not believe it’s suicide, particularly when he discovers that the woman’s sister has just been thrown to her death from her apartment building in Germany. As Roy and his team investigate a stream of scams and ruined lives, they find themselves caught up in a tangle of murder, treachery and broken hearts. And Roy is about to become reacquainted with a killer from his past.
Dead at First Sight is the fifteenth novel in Peter James’ hugely popular series featuring Brighton senior detective Roy Grace. Each of these novels stands alone well. Roy’s private life, particularly his relationship with his recently discovered young son, is a recurring theme but it’s easy to catch up. A notorious figure from Roy’s life also stirs the muddy water here but, again, it doesn’t matter if you’ve not met him before. This is a self-contained story and what a timely and topical story it is. The novel takes us into the horrible world of identity theft and online fraud. These are not victimless crimes, as the ruined, broken lives we encounter here make very clear indeed. It’s so hard not to feel for these people, to crave justice for them. Roy is determined to provide it but he’s not going to have it all his own way.
I’ve read a fair few of these books over the years and I’ve grown very fond of Roy Grace. He’s a kind, earnest and clever man and detective who gets results, partly because he knows how to treat people – unlike his superior officer. Dead at First Sight is a particularly detailed police procedural. Everything is laid out meticulously before us. While I did enjoy it, I don’t think that this is one of the stronger books in the series. I think that there is a little too much detail. It does hold things up. And a lot of time is spent with Roy as he reasons things through, sometimes repeatedly. The pace does stall on occasion. I also found a thread or two a bit implausible, and a couple of the baddies surprisingly ineffectual. Some of the jokes are really cheesy!
Nevertheless, Dead at First Sight is a good police procedural with an entertaining and very topical theme. There is such a sadness to some of the stories described here and I liked the way in which the victims are placed at the heart of everything. This is just the sort of crime that Roy Grace is driven to fight and the reader cheers him on, just as we also cheer on some of the victims to take their own vengeance. Things are also coming to a head for Roy Grace as his dislike of his superior increases. And then there’s the matter of how to deal with his son. We suspect there may be trouble in store for Roy Grace, one of my favourite fictional detectives.