Hazel McHaffie


With so many people at home and abroad really struggling this winter I decided to rustle up another batch of woolly hats to help with the crises. Time then for some light reading to accompany the flying needles, and clear some books from my shelves in the process.

Peter James is a prolific crime writer, most famous for his series starring Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. I happened to have the first two books in the set sitting all neglected in my study, at around 500 pages apiece, long enough to get me through the creation of a fair few hats, methinks! And an opportunity to sit at the feet of a master-craftsman at work and hopefully absorb some useful writerly tips. So, off I went …

Dead Simple introduces us to DS Grace and his personal backstory – his own wife Sandy went missing nearly nine years ago and he has been unable to find any trace of her since. This deep-seated and pervasive grief makes him super-sensitive to reports of missing persons in his professional life. There are c25,000 who go missing in England every year, so he’s not short of cases, cold as well as current.

In Dead Simple, he’s intrigued by a case of a missing bridegroom, Michael Harrison, and brings all his skill in observing and interpreting human behaviour to bear to solve his disappearance. Michael’s four friends took him on a pub crawl days before the wedding and left him in an open hole in a coffin with the lid screwed down (no spoilers; it’s in the first chapter). When the four friends are all killed in an horrific car accident, it’s a race against time to find the missing man, not to mention getting him to the church on time. So why wasn’t the best man there? Why does he say he has no idea what was planned? Who else knows about this young man’s whereabouts? Friend or foe?

Looking Good Dead is a more sinister tale. A young woman is brutally stabbed to death and decapitated. Who is she? And what is the significance of a macabre trademark left at the scene? Her gruesome murder is filmed by a person or persons unknown, and an innocent man sees the footage by accident. Frightening things begin to happen to him and his family. James weaves a complicated network of characters and agendas together without dropping a bobbin. Tense stuff.

Both books are compulsive reading, with short chapters, fast action, and numerous cliffhangers; the pages turned effortlessly. And the pile of knitteds grew effortlessly too. But I’m reminded of one of the drawbacks of reading a series like this consecutively: details are repeated in the second and subsequent stories with which we are already familiar. But set against that is genuine admiration for a writer who can sustain progressive¬† backstories for his characters that make them such rounded and believable individuals. And there are currently eighteen books in the Roy Grace series; that’s no mean feat.

Ah, but I see I have another of James’ books, a standalone … Perfect People – at the back of one of the shelves I’m clearing. And this one is more in my own field – genetic disease, rogue genes, parental bereavement … Yes! That’ll do me for the next few hats.

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