Dead Like You, by Peter James

 

The sixth in the DS Roy Grace series follows the themes established in previous novels, but is written to enable new readers to start the series here without needing to read the previous titles. Grace is a senior officer in the Brighton and Hove CID, with special responsibility for cold cases. In the past five books (summed up briefly for new readers) he has not had much opportunity to fulfil this role given the numerous contemporary cases he's solved over the past year (an amazingly varied year!). Now, Grace looks through some of these neglected old cases as the year approaches its end, determined to make inroads.

 

Before Grace can get started, a rapist quickly dubbed "The Shoe Man" attacks a woman in a case with uncanny similarities to an old case of his. Another woman is attacked, and Grace quickly puts together a team to investigate. We also, unfortunately in my view, inhabit the "mind of the rapist" as he/she identifies likely victims and tracks them down – as well as the minds of a few other unsavoury characters no doubt intended to increase suspense but in fact slowing the pace of the book with rather cliched descriptions of unpleasant thoughts and activities.

The targeted women are all well-off, wear branded perfume (literally every female character is classified by the make and name of the perfume she wears!), and have a yen for £500-a-pair designer shoes – the designer mentioned by name in each case. They all use Facebook and Twitter to broadcast their diaries in full detail, leaving them vulnerable to being ambushed in dark car parks when alone, etc. Are people really that daft? Despite a few misgivings along these lines I was quite enjoying reading this book until Grace, in a cosy domestic scene with his partner, a mortician called Cleo, learns from her that all women lust after expensive designer shoes. I have news for Cleo or the author: many women are not the slightest bit interested in impractical 5-inch shoes with an inflated price tag, even considering them ugly despite the diktats of the style world.

As well as the contemporary investigation, Grace has his team dig out similar rapes and attacks in the area during the recent past, including one of Grace's old cases which may have been an early, or even the first, crime in the series. (The reader has been subjected to repeated descriptions of this particular gruesome abduction since the first chapter.) There is a bit of macho byplay between Grace and a profiler as to whether the cases are one criminal's MO or are/were committed by several, but this rivalry does not go anywhere, nor do the other characters in Grace's team, who are provided with a label ("sexist man", "feminist woman", etc) but not much more than that. After the main case is eventually solved, the inevitable twist in the tail is no surprise as it was heavily signalled throughout the novel, as well as disappointing because it relies on the police overlooking a hiding place that is not only a staple of the genre but also is remarked on by one of them when searching the location – but not checked, we discover at the end.

If this book had been half the length (say 250 pages instead of 500) it could have been a brisk, enjoyable police procedural – the author certainly can write a good, involving story. However, it is bloated with too many voyeuristic scenes depicting terrified women, the worst of which are those that describe the ordeal of Rachel Ryan, the presumed first victim. One result is that the reader is repelled, another is that the chapters concerning Grace's investigation are too interrupted to gain traction. Regular readers know that Grace's wife Sandy disappeared some years ago and that he's spent much of the intervening time searching for her – we have even learnt a few snippets about what might be going on. In DEAD LIKE YOU, Grace regularly remembers his relationship with Sandy at the time of Rachel's disappearance, but she is depicted as a complaining, nagging, selfish woman – which jars with what we've been told of her previously. Grace's new partner, Cleo, is presented blandly as being the perfect, understanding woman, whereas previously there have been hints of tension in their relationship. All this is fine for new readers but regulars might be a bit confused by the inconsistencies.

I don't mean to be grudging about this novel, but I do not like books that dwell on ordeals of kidnap victims, especially involving women being terrorised, or that award so many words to the unedifying, predictable warped minds and actions of a number of identikit possible perpetrators. The best parts of this book by far are the Grace-led police procedural aspects and the byplay between the police colleagues – and the depiction of the wider police force and politics. If the author would only stick with those (his descriptions of the police treatment of the victims are models of sensitivity) and reduce the salacious elements, which are both unpleasant and destroy the tension and pace by the use of very short interspersed chapters, I'd be keener to read the next book. Grace is a sympathetic and attractive person, more than capable of carrying an average-length novel about one of his investigations, without the need for pages and pages of tedious description of retrospective evil and "mind-of-killer" padding – or regular identifications of luxury fashion brands.

Review first published at Euro Crime, June 2010.

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