Today we have the first novel in the Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series, Dead Simple by Peter James.
Dead Simple* by Peter James (2005)
Blurb: Four of Michael’s friends take him out for a night of fun before his wedding, but they end up dead and Michael is missing. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace takes the call and starts an investigation, which brings up memories of his own wife who went missing years before and who has never been found. Will he be able to find this young man?
A Series of Disappointments
Setting: I had high hopes for this series because I read it was set in Brighton, UK. I have visited Brighton and enjoyed my time there, so I was excited to read more about it. Unfortunately, other than the barest of mentions of locations like
“I’m sitting in a traffic jam on the A26 south of Crowborough…”
Dead Simple could have been set anywhere, which was disappointing.
Tension: Next, Peter James does a great job of creating excruciating tension in the beginning. The victim, Michael, is put in a bad situation and the clock is ticking. The reader wants him to be found as soon as possible,
Rather than putting long hours into the case, however, which you would expect given his experience with his wife, Roy Grace wanders off to a poker game. Life goes on and on. He even takes his goddaughter out for her weekly jaunt.
It isn’t unusual for authors to write in quiet moments between tense scenes. Perhaps James was trying to make his protagonist seem like a regular guy. In any case, Roy Grace’s part in the story didn’t work for me. It seemed like the villains were the only ones who accomplished anything.
Solving the Mystery: Okay, Roy Grace is a superintendent, so he’s going to put some clues together and find out what’s going on, right? Except, the author doesn’t even have that happen. Someone else steps up and wraps things up for Roy (I won’t give details, but let’s say the ending is foreshadowed toward the beginning.)
What Works in Dead Simple?
Given all the disappointments, you might wonder why this book is so popular. My guess is the plot. The beginning set up with Michael is so good that the tension in his plot thread keeps the reader reading regardless of the low key police detective. The plot also has some good twists, again all in Michael’s part of the story.
The Bottom Line:
The bottom line is that the victim is the only part of the book I cared about. I might pick up a later book in the series to see if things improve.