Diligent police work by a dedicated protagonist like Detective Superintendent Roy Grace couldn't turn out to be all wrong, could it?
Throughout Not Dead Enough, the latest novel by the prolific British author Peter James (2007, Pan Macmillan, London, 486 pages), the evidence mounts steadily against Brian Bishop, an IT entrepreneur whose wife Katie falls victim to a sadistic murderer in the opening pages.
The unpleasant details, those described and others imagined, have a chilling effect.
“Straining to see him in her rear-view mirror, she saw a sliver of light shear off the blade of the knife, like a spark.
And in that rear-view mirror he saw, reflected, the terror in her eyes.”
Leading a team of talented police investigators, Grace builds a solid case and arrests the beleaguered Bishop.
Then why is a madman still stalking Cleo Morey, Grace's girlfriend, who (rather ironically) works at the Brighton and Hove City Mortuary? Can Grace straighten out the tangled mess in time? Or will the charismatic Cleo end up lying lifeless on one of her own autopsy tables?
James implies that the “sole suspect”, introduced when playing golf, may be innocent.
“Bishop, on the ninth, perspiring like everyone else, focused his mind of the gleaming Titleist he had just planted on the tee. He flexed his knees, swung his hips and tightened his grip on the handle of his driver, preparing for his practice swing…. Tuning out the drone of a bumblebee, he glared at a ladybird which suddenly alighted on the ground right in front of him…. Conscious of his three partners waiting to drive off after him, and that the players behind them were already on the green, he knelt, picked the orange and black creature up gently with his gloved hand and tossed it to safety.”
Readers become just as perplexed as Grace and his team.
“Are we dealing with a ghost of something?...
“I never heard of a ghost ejaculating,” Grace said. “Or driving cars. Or tattoing people with power drills.”
The author skillfully develops complex characters worthy of interest. Both Grace and his fellow detective Glenn Branson, the latter “six foot, two inches tall, black, and bald as a meteorite”, hold the readers' attention while stirring sympathy.
James bases Grace upon one of his friends, Dave Gaylor, a retired British policeman. The fictional investigator struggles to cope with the unexplained disappearance of his wife Sandy nine years ago. “Had she simply had enough one day, upped sticks and left? It was just one of the many possibilities of what had happened to her that July night. On his 30th birthday. Nine years ago last Wednesday.”
The burly Branson first appears “all crumpled up and blubbing his eyes out” even before any of the murder victims are discovered. Evidently, everyone must grapple with problems.
On these pages, emotions hit hard and penetrate deeply. “Then, like a massive, unseen wave, grief flooded up inside him and drew him down, into a void of darkness, as if there had been a sudden, instant, total eclipse of the sun and all the sounds of the city around him.”
James magnifies even the villains, major and minor, so that the readers come to know them well, almost like family members, albeit those gone astray.
“Twenty quid… would go on a bag of brown or white – heroin or crack, whatever was available. The other fiver, if he got it, would go towards food, drink, fags. And he would supplement that with whatever he could steal today.”
Even the nasty guys can provide humorous moments.
“Skunk's phone was ringing and vibrating…. It was flashing, slithering around on the sink-top, where he had left it, like some large, crazed, wounded beetle.
After 30 seconds, it succeeded in waking him. He sat up sharply and, as he did most mornings, hit his head on the low Luton roof of his clapped-out camper van.
With a mastery of sights and sounds, James strategically places his readers, always present, always watching and listening.
“Expensive metal gleamed in the car park, and the only sounds, other than the intermittent parp-parp-parp of a rogue car alarm, were the hum of insects, the snick of titanium against dimpled polymer, the whirr of electric trolleys, the rapidly silenced ring-tones of mobile phones and the occasional stifled cuss of a golfer who had hit a totally crap shot.”
James weaves a plot that's complex and twisty. Yet the resolution's simple, perhaps too simple. Some readers may ponder whether the ending's satisfactory or slightly unrealistic.
Novels by James appear in 26 languages and reflect his interests in medicine, science and the paranormal. The author lives in London and Sussex, England.
Grace starred in two earlier books, Dead Simple and Looking Good Dead, with another coming soon. The author's other titles include: Atom Bomb Angel, Prophecy, Alchemist, The Truth, Denial and Faith.
Bookstores in every city have their shelves packed full of murder-mystery thrillers. But Not Dead Enough takes its place among the others as a strong example of the genre.
Approval rating: 77 per cent.
For more information: www.panmacmillan.com or www.peterjames.com
Coming Soon: Watch Cairns Media Magazine for a Feature Story about Peter James, the author of Not Dead Enough.
(January 14, 2008)