52 books in 1 year. Week 7, Book 5: ‘Dead Simple’ by Peter James

Late last year I read ‘You are Dead’ by Peter James, which I didn’t realise was the 11th book in a series about the fictional ‘Detective Superintendent Roy Grace of Sussex CID’. So I recently chose to read ‘Dead Simple’, the very first in the series – first published in 2005. It has taken me a couple of weeks to read it, as life has got in the way – but that doesn’t mean it is not a good book.

A stag night ‘prank’ goes wrong when four friends who have buried the bridegroom in a coffin are all killed in a car crash immediately afterwards. The best man (who was not on the stag night) is also the business partner of the bridegroom and will benefit substantially if he is not found. The ‘distraught fiancée’ also appears to be leading a double (or treble) life. I can’t tell you much more about the plot without giving it all away, other than to say that if you suffer from claustrophobia (as I do), then some of the chapters feel … well, suffocating, to put it mildly.

I’d set out to discover more about Detective Superintendent Roy Grace and I succeeded, mainly through his banter with the sidekick Detective Sergeant Glenn Branson. ‘It’s not what you eat, it’s worrying about what you eat. Worry is the killer,’ said Grace, as he tucked into his pub food of steak and kidney pie washed down with a Guinness, whilst Branson had a salad and Diet Coke. Grace always tries to also answer Branson’s questions with a question: ‘Can’t you just answer my questions?’ says Branson. ‘I dunno. Tell me?’ comes the reply.

With Grace preferring to drive his own Alfa Romeo 147 saloon instead of using a police pool car, Branson keeps playing ‘movie memory’ games on him – with every suspect reminding him of an actress he’s seen in Fatal Attraction, The Last Seduction or Men in Black – none of which Grace has seen. Even when a Land Rover Freelander is being winched out of a river with the silhouettes of the dead occupants visible, Branson turns to Grace and says it reminds him of ‘the original Psycho, 1960 – when they winch the car with Janet Leigh’s body in out of the lake, remember?’ ‘I remember,’ says Grace, as if to shut his colleague up.

I’m not too convinced about Grace’s use of mediums to search for missing persons, however, and there’s one too many coincidences – specifically with the detective playing Thursday night poker with his mates in the same block of flats where a mud-streaked BMW X5 is also parked … pretty crucial to the plot.

But it is Grace’s relationship and brief first date with Cleo Morey, his new girlfriend (his wife has gone missing but it is not really explained why), that I enjoyed the most. With her looks, she ‘could have been a model or an actress’, but Cleo’s job is to book in cadavers at the Brighton & Hove City Mortuary, prepare them for post-mortems, and then clean up afterwards. She has ‘a great figure, blue eyes, a small, pretty nose, rosebud lips, dimpled chin, lean body’, and ‘every man in the pub was ogling her’ – but Grace wonders whether they’d still be ogling her if they knew what she did for a living. They have a lot in common – they also both own a goldfish. Cleo’s is simply called Fish, and Roy’s is called Marlon. They were clearly meant for one another.

My only criticism is that Detective Superintendent Roy Grace of Sussex CID often seems to investigate matters simply on a ‘hunch’ or because he has a ‘bad feeling’ about something – but that might be his talent. I’ll certainly try to fit in at least the second book in the series, ‘Look Good Dead’, during this year.

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