Detective Superintendent Roy Grace finds himself plunged into an unfamiliar and rarefied world of fine art. Outwardly it appears respectable, gentlemanly, above reproach. But beneath the veneer, he rapidly finds that greed, deception and violence walk hand-in-hand.
It was lovely to be back in the world of Roy Grace, a character I was introduced to by a lovely new neighbour nearly ten years ago. When she moved in across the road from me with her English teacher daughter, they both had an extensive library. So, she asked me over for a cup of tea and to look through their boxes of duplicate books. She’d noticed I had a substantial library of my own when she popped round to introduce herself. This unexpected rummage through their cast offs brought both Elly Griffiths and Roy Grace to my notice. Luckily for me, both mum and daughter had a full set of Grace novels so I was able to spend a few weeks slowly working my way through his entire story. I managed to get access to Peter James’s latest through Netgalley a couple of months ago, but have been a little late in writing up my review.
This time Grace’s case takes him into the world of art collecting and finds that when a collector wants a particular painting, they might pursue it using any means at their disposal, even murder. Everything is set in motion by a couple called Harry and Freya Kipling, an ordinary couple who work as a builder and a teacher. On their weekends they like nothing more than browsing car boot sales for bric a brac and on one particular day Harry brings home a hideous painting of an old hag. He explains to Freya that he bought it for the ornate frame, hoping they could use it for a different painting. He leaves it in the conservatory, but on a sunny day the heat coming through the glass starts to burn the painting. That’s when the couple notice there’s something completely different underneath and after asking an expert Harry cleans the picture with acetone. Underneath is a fêtes galantes style painting of a couple in a garden that looks like others by Fragonard. Of course Harry doesn’t imagine for a minute that it’s worth anything, but for fun they attend a local filming of the Antiques Roadshow. As they queue up in front of the painting expert, they’re shocked to be taken aside and told the he would like to do some quick research on the their picture before filming. He then drops a bombshell, that this painting could be a missing Fragonard; the Spring painting in a series on the seasons. Alone it’s worth upwards of a million pounds, but with the others in the series it’s worth much more. The Kipling’s treat the painting almost like a ticking time bomb, something that worsens when their episode of the roadshow is televised. Now everyone knows they own this painting, including people who want it and will stop at nothing to obtain it.
This is an incredibly tough time for CSI Grace and his wife Cleo, he has only just lost his son Leo in a tragic accident and they are preparing for his funeral. Leo had only lived with Roy and Cleo for a few months, after his mother Sandy’s death in Munich. Sandy was Roy’s first wife who went missing early on in his career, causing so many problems and putting Roy in a position as suspect in her disappearance. He hadn’t even known Sandy was still alive, let alone he had a son, so it’s been a rollercoaster of combined grief and joy. To find out he had a son was shocking and to lose him so soon afterwards has been terrible, plus Cleo is close to giving birth to their second child together. His DI Glen Branson is at loggerheads with his fiancé over her job as a journalist, specialising in crime. Her ambition can mean criticising the force, something Glen is very sensitive about. With all this at home, at work Roy and Glen are looking at a cold case, the murder of an antiques and art dealer on his return home one evening. He was killed in his car on his own drive, as he waited for his electric gates to open, by someone who knew his movements very well. When the Kiplings have their house broken into, with nothing taken, it seems certain to be linked to their appearance on the Antiques Roadshow. Then when another body turns up, this time outside the home of renowned art forger Dave Hegarty, the coincidences start to pile up. As Roy’s team work their way through the collectors of Fragonard, will he find one who’s willing to kill to complete their collection?
This is a very different world to the one Roy’s team usually inhabit, but as always where huge amounts of money are involved, people are ruthless. The author is an absolute master at giving us moments of personal joy and anguish, alongside extreme tension and fear. One section of the book has a home invasion that’s absolutely heart-stopping! Then next we’re at Leo’s funeral, an incredibly personal moment where we’re taken into Roy’s anger over Sandy’s disappearance and guilt about his relationship with his son. Alongside this is the anticipation about the birth of his second child with Cleo, due in the next few weeks. The case is fascinating and I fell completely into this world of art collecting, from those who can afford the real thing to the world of forgeries where being as good as Dave Hegarty can bring plaudits and plenty of cash too. I felt so bad for the Kiplings, who had simply bought a painting at a boot sale and didn’t deserve any of the horror and stress that followed. It was good to be back with the team again; Tanya showing her usual organisation and Norman’s terrible jokes from the 1980’s really bringing the reader back into their world. Then of course there’s Brighton, with the usual mix of the seedy and strange that comes with Roy’s job and how it contrasts with the quieter rural life he’s chosen for his family. I only hope from here on there’s less personal turbulence for a character I’ve come to enjoy so much.
Meet The Author
Peter James is a UK No.1 bestselling author, best known for his Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series, now a hit ITV drama starring John Simm as the troubled Brighton copper. Much loved by crime and thriller fans for his fast-paced page-turners full of unexpected plot twists, sinister characters, and accurate portrayal of modern day policing, he has won over 40 awards for his work including the WHSmith Best Crime Author of All Time Award and Crime Writers’ Association Diamond Dagger.
To date, Peter has written an impressive total of 19 Sunday Times No. 1s, sold over 21 million copies worldwide and been translated into 38 languages. His books are also often adapted for the stage – the most recent being Looking Good Dead.
Visit Peter James http://www.peterjames.com
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