A fourth quick commendation: Dead Man’s Grip by Peter James

October 18, 2012 at 10:54 pm (Book review, books, Mystery fiction, The British police procedural)

I meant to include a fourth title in the post immediately preceding this one:

An accident involving multiple vehicles results in the death of a university student, and Detective Superintendent Roy Grace of the Sussex constabulary catches the case.  Carly Chase, a busy single mother on her way to work, had swerved to avoid hitting the youth, who was then struck by another vehicle. Carly’s quick thinking maneuver had succeeded, if only momentarily. But in the process, her car was badly damaged. She emerges from the wreck, rattled but with only minor injuries.

At first, Carly’s  role in the accident seems like little more than a mighty nuisance.  But there is more to this complicated roadway crack-up than at first meets the eye, and Carly is soon to discover the true meaning of terror….

The plot of Dead Man’s Grip becomes increasingly convoluted, but it is marked by a clarity of purpose and an almost unrelenting suspense. Roy Grace is an enormously appealing protagonist. He’s a dauntless, resourceful investigator with an intriguing and complex personal life. His wife having unaccountably disappeared some years ago, Roy is now deeply in love with Cleo Morey, who is soon to give birth to their child.

Surprises,  largely of the unpleasant variety, await Roy Grace in both the domestic and professional spheres of his (overcrowded) life.

I like the way Peter James writes. Here’s a sample:

He tipped the can of gun oil on to a piece of rag and wiped along the barrel. He liked the smell of the oil the way some folk, he imagined, liked the smell of a fine wine. He’d seen wine experts on television talk about hints of cedar, cigar, pepper and cinnamon, or about gooseberries, and citrus. This oil had a metallic tang to it, a hint of linseed, copper and rotten apples. It was every bit as fine to him as the finest wine.

This is easily one of the most evocative – in an olfactory sense – prose passages I’ve come across in some time.

In addition to Roy Grace, this novel is crowded with fascinating characters. I’m thinking especially of Tooth, an improbably named hit man with a number of unique attributes.

I read Dead Simple, the first novel in the Roy Grace series, last year, because  Peter James was scheduled to take part in Crimefest 2011, which we were lucky enough to attend.

Peter James at the podium, on the evening of the Crimefest Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony

Dead Simple was very good, but Dead Man’s Grip was even better. It seems to me that Peter James has crafted a rare blend of traditional police procedural and fast-paced thriller. The reader is gifted with the best of both crime fiction genres: a story that grabs you and doesn’t let go, and fully developed characters that spring to life and keep you caring about the outcome.


  1. Angie Boyter said,

    You know I respect your evaluations, Roberts, but are you getting as tired as I am of the cliche of single mothers, who must be cast in the role of saints or victims? Why can’t we have a mediocre single mom, or even a bad one? Reading that line alone was enough to turn me off, which is not fair, I admit, but I imagine you get my drift.

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Or sometimes a saint AND a victim! Angie, I think you are right to offer a critique of this somewhat overused trope. All I can say is that Peter James makes very effective use of it in DEAD MAN’S GRIP. Also, the novel is about a great deal more than Carly Chase’s trials and tribulation – though I focused on her, in my review.

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