Following his early December interview on BBC Radio Wales and appearances in Newport and Cardiff libraries, I picked up Dead Tomorrow, the fifth in the Roy Grace series by Peter James. And now I know why these novels sell so well. What came across so evidently in his talk was James’s attention to detail. Delightfully, you will find this in Dead Tomorrow which makes for one of the most realistically portrayed police investigations I have read in a few years. With a very contemporary plot that plays out more as a chase thriller than an intricate layering of clues and red herrings, Dead Tomorrow's 532 pages move like the breeze. And James ensures we are never far away from the impact on direct victims and those around them. This is not crime fiction for those seeking the gratuitous; this is crime fiction to educate and make you think.
Grace was introduced in Dead Simple. He’s a Brighton and Hove copper whose personal life came to reflect his working life when his wife went missing. By the time of Dead Tomorrow, Grace’s wife has been gone for some nine years and he’s now involved with another young woman whom he met through his work.
Turning the facts he learned through research into his fiction, Dead Tomorrow opens with three strands around a theme. A man suffers in a motorcycle accident and is on life support. A woman takes a call to say that her teenage daughter’s liver disease has materially deteriorated and that she needs a transplant as soon as possible. The body of a boy is recovered at sea by a dredger going about its routine work. The theme of course, is the worldwide black market in body parts and the human trafficking that supports it.
The detail in the novel is authentic, but does not bog it down. Indeed, where Mo Hayder calls on similar occurrences and dramatises them (re. Ritual and not to be taken as an insult), James maintains a pragmatic air of involvement.
All the characters are so very human: from the victims, to the pressured, to the investigators. We learn of their personal lives as their day to day is also encountered in this interweaving plot. Of particular note here included the portrayal of teenagers, where the ‘Whatever…’ mantra can hide both a sharp mind and a depth of emotion, and the nitty gritty of pet ownership (I had forgotten what puppies involved).
I have said it before: I once heard Colin Dexter say that his brother was his best critic. Brother Dexter claimed that he liked Colin’s books as the chapters were nicely short so he could read one in bed before falling asleep. James’s prose is comparable on one level in that the chapters are also on the short side. However, for this reader the completion of one meant a need to whip through the next and get further in. This was interspersed with the occasional look at the watch to check the time and thus estimate where I might be by the next o’clock. Sleep, I hoped, would not interrupt my reading that Sunday night.
All in all, Dead Tomorrow is a good, gutsy novel to get your teeth into. It will also stand the test of time, being an excellent evocation of how we live now and what crimes we fight.
Now for a tip-off for the existing avid reader of the Grace series: James recently said that the next novel will, in part, go back in time in the lives of Mr and Mrs Grace. Thus clues to that ongoing mystery will be delivered. Meanwhile, I have a backlist to enjoy.
Dead Tomorrow is currently riding high in the paperback charts as Christmas approaches. It’s also a topical read, perfect for the festive season, as it is set during the same period. Enjoy!
[Copy read was a proof from the publisher, picked up at the London Book Fair earlier this year.]