Dead If You Don’t by Peter James

Review published on May 11, 2018.

Dead If You Don’t is a proper police procedural. Peter James prides himself on his attention to detail and accuracy of approach. That is refreshing because this is a Roy Grace thriller, but not the Roy Grace show; no one steps outside the bounds of their role. That doesn’t mean they don’t break rules, but it does mean they don’t go off on a solo mission or cowboy adventure. It adds a sense of realism to the story. As with all the good long-running series, the location becomes as much a part of the story as the characters and Brighton, including the first season in the Premiership for Brighton and Hove Albion, feels right.

I think this is the fifteenth Detective Superintendent, Roy Grace outing, it’s the first one I have read in a long time, and it was an enjoyable read. James has a knack for telling a story in short bursts, sharp chapters and passages (in a totally different style of writing but similar manner to James Patterson). There are various, seemingly unrelated, storylines, that build into a twisty tale of kidnap and gangsters. It all comes together nicely and there is the occasional hint of humour along the way.

Kipp Brown is a gambler; it’s ruining his life. On Friday he drops a fortune at the roulette wheel and maxes out his credit cards. Yet on Saturday morning he bets another £20k on the horses. When he takes his 14-year-old son to the first Brighton and Hove Albion home game of the season he gets distracted by business friends. Just long enough for his son to disappear without anything strange being noticed. The kidnappers aren’t saying what they want yet, but Brown is warned to stay away from the police. Roy Grace is already on the scene when Brown, unsure of what to do, finally reports his son’s disappearance, Grace was at the game too. It’s an eventful afternoon because Grace also gets mixed up in a bomb threat.

Gentian Llupa had ambitions to be a doctor, his work for Mr. Dervishi put paid to that. It is bad news for poor Ryan Brent, who has stolen from Dervishi and Llupa, and Dervishi expects more than a pound of flesh in return. Fiorentina Shima had fled her home in rural Albania, in Tirana she falls into the wrong hands and a builder has an accident on a building site that leads to the discovery of a body, and more trouble for Grace and his team.

The story takes place over a couple of days in August, the tight time frame gives the tale a sense of urgency, so this is a page turner. The various strands of the story link up nicely in the end and the runaway elements of the plot, when the criminal plans go astray, keep you reading what could otherwise have been a quite ordinary story. James does a nice line in Eastern European villains, and a lot of no-nonsense characters that help to drive the plot forward at a decent pace. Dead If You Don’t builds the tension and a real sense of peril around the kidnap of Mungo Brown. Ultimately, for me, this is not the most exciting read, but it was entertaining. James is an experienced exponent of the crime novel and this will please his fans, although I suspect they will probably recognise that there are better stories in the series. Overall, a good read.

Paul Burke 3/4

Dead If You Don’t by Peter James
Macmillan 9781509816354 hbk May 2018

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