Best so far

an au­thor at the peak of his pow­ers of­fers the lat­est in a lon­grun­ning se­ries that man­ages to re­main fresh.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS - Re­view by NICK WALKER star2@thes­tar.com.my

Dead Man’s Time Au­thor: Peter James

Pub­lisher: Mino­taur Books, 416 pages, fic­tion

THE De­tec­tive-Su­per­in­ten­dent Roy Grace se­ries shows no signs of slow­ing down or be­com­ing jaded, even here in book nine of the best­selling fran­chise.

These mur­der-mys­ter­ies – all cen­tred in and around the English coastal city of Brighton – have now shifted 14 mil­lion units across the globe.

Each book in the se­ries con­tains the word “dead” in the ti­tle. But for crime fic­tion junkies, they’re a life-af­firm­ing read; there’s al­ways enough warmth and hu­mour to bal­ance the gore and body count.

Fas­tid­i­ously re­searched and de­tailed, as a re­sult of James join­ing the (re­mark­ably ac­com­mo­dat­ing) Brighton po­lice on some of their raids, and also hav­ing many close friends in the force’s ranks, these crime pro­ce­du­rals are the best com­ing out of Bri­tain to­day.

Only the other Peter – Peter Robin­son – comes close, with his ex­cel­lent De­tec­tive Alan Bank se­ries set in York­shire.

Gra­ham Greene first put Brighton on the map in 1938 in his noirish

Brighton Rock. And while in­ter­view­ing James a few years ago, I learned that Greene’s dark mas­ter­piece was the book that com­pelled James both to write for a liv­ing and to fea­ture his city (he’s not only a life­long res­i­dent, James is also Brighton-born) in his work.

The au­thor is on top form here. From the start, when 98-year-old widow Aileen McWhirter is tor­tured to death by mur­der­ous creeps hell­bent on ex­tract­ing from her the com­bi­na­tion code of her safe, this book grips through al­most ev­ery page. The thieves make off with more than £10mil worth of valu­able antiques, and their haul in­cluded a rare 1910 Patek Philippe time­piece.

De­spite the watch’s breath-tak­ing mon­e­tary value, it’s the sen­ti­men­tal value that drives 95-year-old Gavin Daly, Aileen’s brother, both to set about re­cov­er­ing it and avenge his sis­ter’s mur­der. And – as if this wasn’t enough – to delve into an al­most century-old mys­tery. Gavin is also de­ter­mined to dis­cover the fate of his fa­ther, a docker and fear­some gang leader who, in 1922, was taken from their home in New York and never seen again.

The mob­sters (from a ri­val gang) re­spon­si­ble for his fa­ther’s dis­ap­pear­ance also mur­dered Gavin’s mother all those years ago. The young or­phaned sib­lings were sub­se­quently sent from New York to Ire­land to be raised by mem­bers of the ex­tended fam­ily. Quite a back­story to the present-day plot!

In adult­hood, Gavin made his name and his for­tune in the antiques busi­ness, in time be­com­ing a king­pin of Brighton’s antiques trade. Nat­u­rally, he was Aileen’s ad­viser when it came to high-value and lux­ury pur­chases – which were all snatched away that dread­ful night, as his sis­ter lay dy­ing an ag­o­niz­ing death. Gavin’s head­strong and reck­less son, Lu­cas, also gets in­volved in this re­venge game, with pre­dictably un­pre­dictable re­sults.

What a fam­ily to get in­volved with! Nev­er­the­less, Grace’s in­ves­tiga­tive team is called in to probe the mur­der-rob­bery and ap­pre­hend the per­pe­tra­tors.

As al­ways, James does a fine job of gen­er­at­ing the team at­mos­phere of cops on the case, try­ing to piece to­gether the scant clues.

The line-up of Grace’s team of­ten changes, which is in keep­ing with po­lice life in re­al­ity. But some old stand­bys re­main from the ear­lier books, in­clud­ing, thank­fully, the ones that pro­vide comic re­lief.

The cin­e­matic ac­tion shifts from Brighton and the sur­round­ing south coast county of Sus­sex, to New York City, and thence to Spain’s Costa del Sol – or Costa del Crime, as it’s of­ten re­ferred to be­cause of the large num­ber of Bri­tish crooks and ex-cons who have made this part of Spain’s coast their home.

At some points in the story arc, James ex­pects us to sus­pend a bit too much dis­be­lief, such as Grace’s need to cross the At­lantic to the Big Ap­ple, as well as his con­duct and ac­tions while he’s prowl­ing the mean streets of Brook­lyn in New York. Also, the sub­plot in­volv­ing a ne­far­i­ous scum­bag who crossed paths with Grace many years pre­vi­ously is over­wrought and de­tracts from the main ac­tion.

But this is redeemed by James in­tro­duc­ing a new facet to his lead char­ac­ter: fa­ther­hood. The highly per­sonal tone of this sto­ry­line is touch­ing and adds greatly to the pro­tag­o­nist’s ap­peal.

Past and present are slathered in blood and men­ace, and James has an un­canny knack of char­ac­ter­is­ing his vil­lains in a way that makes you feel their hot foul breath down your neck.

As usual, James throws in more than a few well-con­cealed clos­ing twists, and, in to­tal­ity, Dead Man’s Time is James at the peak of his pow­ers. Can book 10 get bet­ter than this? The pro­lific James won’t make us wait too long for the an­swer to that – he cranks out a Roy Grace yarn at a rate of one a year.

The tough-but-ten­der Grace en­dures a lot in this tran­satlan­tic mys­tery thriller – hope he has the stamina to nail the bad guys next time. I have a feel­ing he will.

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