The US publication of Peter James’s considerable body of work has been spotty at best, due to a combination of factors that we won’t go into now. Critically and commercially acclaimed in his native Great Britain as well as Europe in general, James has written in a number of genres, including medical thrillers, children’s and speculative fiction. But his work in the mystery and crime thriller genres is arguably his most highly regarded, particularly his series with Roy Grace, a driven but troubled Detective Superintendent of the Sussex police force.
"If you are looking to add another book to your must-read list (and even if you’re not), DEAD MAN’S GRIP should be your top choice."
While the bad news is that not all of the books in the series are readily available on this side of the Atlantic, the good news is that one can pick up DEAD MAN’S GRIP, the seventh and the latest in the series, and read it without prior knowledge of what has gone before. James has mentioned elsewhere that he writes each of the books as a stand-alone work, filling in just enough information so as to bring those late to the party quickly up to snuff. Be assured, though: Once you read DEAD MAN’S GRIP, you will want to check out the rest of the series. It is one of those compelling, one-sit reads that keeps one wondering what will happen next, from first page to last.
James begins the novel with a change of perspective rotating among three players. Carly Chase is a legal solicitor and widowed mother who is backing uneasily into middle age, drinking just a bit too much but still sharp enough to regret it. Stuart Ferguson is a truck driver who has been on the road too long, and is looking forward to making a delivery and getting some rest. And Tony Revere is a university student from the US who is living with his girlfriend, studying abroad (no pun intended) in part to escape his domineering and abrasive mother. More on her later.
Revere, while riding his bicycle to school, is killed rather horribly in a motor vehicle accident in which Chase and Ferguson are dramatically involved but ultimately not at fault. An investigation reveals that Revere was struck by a third vehicle, a white van that quickly left the scene of the accident. The occurrence would be bad enough, but Revere’s parents are not your typical grieving couple: his mother is the daughter of a notorious crime figure, and his father is a mob accountant. Revere’s mother wants revenge and wants it now. So she retains through an intermediary (her brother) the services of a highly skilled and very frightening assassin known as Tooth, a quietly dangerous and merciless man who is as driven and single-minded as a shark.
Tooth flies to Great Britain, and suddenly the people who were involved in the accident, regardless of culpability, begin horrifically dying. Only Chase is left by the time that Grace and the police become fully aware of what is occurring. She is advised to change her name, conceal her identity, and go into hiding with her son. But Chase is no babe in the woods. She is all too well aware that the assassin, and the people who want to see her dead, will stop at nothing until they exact their revenge. The killer, though, is seemingly one step ahead of her and the police. In the end, Chase comes to the realization that she is going to have to take care of herself. But how?
In the meantime, Grace is feverishly working to keep her alive, even as he is pressured from above to wrap up the matter. Exacerbating the situation is the fact that the love of Grace's life, pregnant with his child, is experiencing complications. And another bombshell is threatening to intrude into Grace’s life as well. His long-missing wife is about to be declared dead, a circumstance that will make her very unhappy.
Peter James is as single-minded to his craft as his characters, good and otherwise, are to theirs. He continues to spend at least one day per week with the Sussex police, and attends law enforcement conferences throughout the world on a regular basis, all to make sure that the investigative procedures featured in his novels reflect the cutting edge of investigative technique. The bells and whistles are exceeded only by James’s razor-sharp characterization and smart plotting, all of which is infused with a dark gallows humor starting with the book’s title. And James drops a bomb or two along the way (a big one, in particular, at the very end). If you are looking to add another book to your must-read list (and even if you’re not), DEAD MAN’S GRIP should be your top choice.