I have long been a fan of Peter James’s Roy Grace series so I felt very lucky to get a sneak peek at his latest. I discovered the books when in hospital around six years ago and I spent a great ten days whipping through the novels one after another. Then came that horrible moment of regret that every bookworm experiences after a binge on one author – reaching the latest in the series then having to wait for them to come out! Luckily, we’re now getting the TV adaptation with the wonderful John Simm as Grace so I can dive into those now I’m up to date again.
We meet Grace at a settled point in life. He and Cleo living out in the country together with their son Noah and Grace’s son Bruno, dog Humphrey and even some chickens. That’s not to say there isn’t the usual everyday dramas, at work and at home. The novel opens as Grace has passed on evidence of police corruption to his friend and colleague from the MET, Alison Vosper. The evidence, if it checks out, should be enough to have his hated boss arrested, never to return. If it doesn’t check out, he will have trusted the word of a criminal to topple a man who isn’t shy about showing his animosity towards Grace. This could end his career in the Sussex force. On the home front Noah is entering the ‘terrible twos’ and both Grace and Cleo are juggling home life with two very demanding jobs. Grace’s most pressing worry though is his older son, who doesn’t seem to be settling and is morbidly curious about such things as Egyptian death rituals. Bruno is his son from his first marriage to Sandy, who disappeared without a trace several years ago leaving Grace facing a possible murder charge. She was hiding out in Munich, after living in several cults and having concealed the fact she’d had a son after leaving him. It’s no surprise that Bruno is mixed-up, but what is the best way to support him?
Our case is equally puzzling. Niall Paternoster reports his wife missing, claiming not to have seen her since the day before when he dropped her at Tesco to buy cat litter. On their way back from visiting a stately home, Eden had reminded him he’d forgotten the previous day. They bickered their way back to Brighton, but finding the car part overrun she suggested he stay in the car and she would pop in. However, she never returned and as the store closed a search failed to find her. Knowing that his wife had stayed with friends after an argument in the past, he hadn’t been worried until 24 hours later. Yet, the usual police enquiries fail to find Eden, she’s not captured on CCTV and in fact there’s no proof she was alive after the Thursday before their stately home day trip. Has Roy Grace found himself landed with the trickiest type of crime to investigate and prosecute – a so called ‘no-body murder’?
One of Peter James’s greatest strengths in this whole series is being able to write about the personal as well as the professional, whether it’s the minutiae of daily living or the deepest tragedies we can face. It’s quite shock when it happens in this novel and the author handles it beautifully, capturing that bewildering mix of emotions from shock, to the rawness of grief as well as the regrets and fears. As always Grace faces this with a copper’s brain – his first response is to think, rather than feel. He questions everything about the circumstances, how it could have happened, then the inevitable why and could he have changed anything? He also deals with it by throwing himself into his work. His grief is so enormous he can’t sit in it for too long, he needs a distraction and luckily Cleo understands this behaviour and lets him cope the way he knows best.
The case becomes more and more intriguing, as surveillance picks up a possible extra-marital relationship on the part of the husband. As well they discover a shallow grave with blood stained clothing and the neighbours describing a terrible argument between the couple. However, something just doesn’t smell right for Grace as they identify the woman having an affair with Eden’s husband is her boss. There’s also the matter of an easily discovered knife, seemingly left in haste. Is this one of those infamous small mistakes that catch a killer or is someone trying to set Niall up? The characters in this triangle are hard to like. Niall is mercenary, abusive and seemingly finds women with money who can support him. Eden’s boss is cold and unfeeling at best, but appears increasingly manipulative and suspicious. We don’t know Eden well, until a staggering twist part way through gives us more background on her character. Luckily we don’t need them to be likeable to be fascinated and compelled by Eden’s disappearance. It felt like being caught in a spider’s web, but not knowing who is the spider.
As always, it’s Grace who is the beating heart of this novel and it’s conscience. If the difficulties he’s facing just coping with his grief aren’t enough, there’s the constant tension surrounding his relationship with the Chief Constable. There are the petty everyday differences they have over the investigation (the CC would have scaled it back) and resources (taking away his surveillance team at a critical point in the investigation). Then, underlying it all, what if Grace has taken the word of a criminal to unmask the CC’s corruption, to find he’s been lied to? Every day that goes by with no news, Grace can see his career disappearing. Once he uncovers some vital paperwork that throws a new light on the Paternoster case, Grace is all business. The build up of tension towards the end of the novel is almost unbearable. The author puts his hero in terrible danger, as on a stormy night in a remote place the whole mystery is uncovered and the real mastermind is revealed. By this point I noticed I was holding my breath! It takes a great writer to make the reader feel real emotions alongside a character. Whether it’s the professional or the personal, I find myself willing him on and hoping that, not only does he solve the case, but that he gets home to Noah and Cleo safe and sound. I felt this, so deeply in this novel, especially as Grace himself ponders how he would cope if he lost anyone else important to him. I raced to the end of the novel, not just to see the case solved, but to see him safely home. Roy Grace is one of those rare characters who has burrowed his way into my heart. I look forward to whatever comes next for him.
Published 13th May 2021.
Meet The Author
Known for his fast-paced and gripping stories that thrust regular people into extraordinary situations, Peter James has proven himself to be one of the world’s most successful writers, delivering number one bestsellers time and time again. His Superintendent Roy Grace books have been translated into 37 languages with worldwide sales of over 21 million copies and 17 number one Sunday Times Bestsellers. His latest Roy Grace novel, Find Them Dead spent seven weeks at number one in 2020. The first two novels in the Roy Grace series, Dead Simple and Looking Good Dead, have been adapted for television by Endeavour’s Russell Lewis and the first episode aired on 14th March 2021.