Dead Man’s Grip- Peter James (2011) – A Murder They Wrote Review

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peterjamesI’m up to Book Seven of what has become my favourite crime series.  Peter James’ novels featuring DS Roy Grace have appeared on my end of year Top 10 lists on three occasions and up to this point I would have struggled to say whether the chilling debut “Dead Simple”(2005)  or novel number five “Dead Tomorrow”(2009) with its organ trafficking theme was the strongest but I think here the standard has just upped a notch and in “Dead Man’s Grip” we have a classic crime novel.

 A couple of the earlier novels I felt had slight issues with pace but the three since “Dead Man’s Footsteps” (2008) have put this right and there are certainly no issues on this score here.  The book hits the floor running and is gripping throughout.

 It has been about 18 months since my last James novel but his characters are so well established by this stage in the series that I don’t need much in the way of memory jogging to recall who is who.  I would urge newbies to read them in order, especially as there is an ongoing subplot regarding Grace’s missing wife, Sandy, which James keeps lightly simmering on the back burner here.  I don’t think I would have got as much from this novel if I had read it out of sequence.

 Roy Grace is here an expectant father but has only a small amount of time to fret over pregnancy complications before another set of Brighton-based crimes take over.  They all stem from a tensely written road traffic accident which leads to involvement of a New York Mafia family. 

 Sometimes it is a set piece which sticks in the mind in James’ novels and I have felt that the book has been built around this.  That’s not exactly a criticism as many crime novelists choose to do this but this instalment is so full of memorable pieces, to the extent that I wondered if it could be built to a gripping climax, but we are certainly not deprived of that here.

 This really does have everything I look for in a police procedural crime novel.  The research seems first-class.  In his acknowledgements it seems as if James has used every member of the Sussex Police Force for help and advice.  (He has also used a few real names and job titles throughout the novel).  If there is a better British crime writer out there at the moment I haven’t found them (yet!).  And I still have got 6 books to got to catch up on this series.  The 14th “Dead If You Don’t” is due out in hardback in May 2018.

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Dead Man’s Grip was published by Macmillan in 2011

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The Level (ITV 2016) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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I’m quite selective with ITV crime dramas.  If there are three episodes or less I tend not to bother and the longer series have to have something which really grabs me right from the start.  There were two things which drew me to watch this first episode of this six parter.  The series is  written by Gaby Chiappe who has considerable writing credits to her name including the screenplay for the 2016  Gemma Arterton starring film “Their Finest” but also for episodes of “Eastenders”, “Vera”, “Shetland”, “The Paradise” and “Lark Rise To Candleford” amongst others together with Alexander Perrin, who previously worked with Chiappe on “Shetland”).  It is directed by Andy Goddard. The two things which got me watching  were the casting and the location.

Rob James-Collier and Lindsey Coulson

The biggest draw for the Downton-starved ITV audience would likely be Rob James-Collier who has hung up Thomas’ butler costume for good and here plays organised crime officer Kevin O’Dowd.  It’s always good to see him on the screen and Eastenders viewers would have appreciated the appearance of Lindsey Coulson (Carol Jackson) now sporting dark hair and in charge of the murder investigation which is central to the plot.  Also in the cast were such very watchable performers as Amanda Burton (probably best known for Silent Witness), Noel Clarke (best known for Dr Who) and a turn from Philip Glenister which was so short that it suggests that a considerable amount of this tale will be back story.

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The central character, however, was DS Nancy Devlin.  This is a female led crime drama and ITV have come up with the goods so many times here with these –from the what seemed like pioneering at the time “The Gentle Touch” to “Prime Suspect” to modern day “Vera” and “Scott and Bailey”.  Devlin is played by Karla Crome who I did not think I was familiar with but, apart from E4’s “Misfits” which I did not watch, I found I knew her, but did not recognise her from her turn as Science teacher Rebecca Pine in Season 2 of the American TV adaptation of Steven King’s “Under The Dome”.  Let’s hope that “The Level” does not deteriorate into unintelligible nonsense which eventually stopped me watching that series!

 From Under The Dome To The Level – Karla Crome

At the start we see DS Devlin being presented with a bravery award after saving Rob James Collier’s life.  He has his leg in a cast and it’s not long before that leg becomes an amusing obstacle in them getting it together back at her place.  The whole thing is interrupted by a phone call and we realise how important it is because there’s not many that would up and leave Rob James Collier in the early throes of passion and it’s not long before we discover that DS Devlin is up to her neck in something unpalatable.  A meeting sees her implicated in a murder investigation which she is then seconded to help solve.  I can’t help but feel that the misery is going to be piled upon her character as the team begin to move in to discover her involvement.  We’ve not finished with Rob’s character as he was there, minus plaster cast and crutches (how long had she been away I thought it was only a couple of days?) also seconded to the case as it looks like the murder could have links to organised crime, although no-one yet knows how close those links to that department actually are.

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I said there were two reasons I chose this.  The second – the Brighton location.  I like to see my old stomping ground on television.  There was a time when it was always depicted as rather grimy and seedy (if they get round to filming Peter James’ books- which I do not really want them to do- then we will get that Brighton back) but beginning with the  2015 BBC show “Cuffs” (cancelled after one series but which I really liked) we have got a glossy, shiny Brighton, which looked good and this was certainly the case with “The Level”.  What we also had here in this first episode was a disturbingly empty Brighton – apart from the fleeting appearance of passing hen and stag night groups there was no-one around. There were a couple of nicely framed shots of sea-front shelters, which looked impressive and which formed meeting places between Devlin and her old school friend Hayley and views out to sea and of the Brighton Wheel (which has materialised since I moved away) but there was no-one around.  It wasn’t the busy- at-any- time- of the- day –or- night Brighton I remembered but it certainly looked lovely.

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The plot of the first episode pulled me in enough to make me want to watch the next episodes and with another five to go there is surely going to be plenty of intrigue and plot twists and I think poor old DS Nancy Devlin is going to continue having a bad time.  She is already nursing a secret gunshot wound.  (Why do I always wince when anyone pulls back a dressing to reveal a wound on TV yet can be unmoved by far more horrible sights?).  This Friday night show might make up for the fact that after three episodes the much anticipated 6th season of “American Horror Story” over on Fox an hour later might disappointingly just be going nowhere…………….

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The Level began on Friday 30th September at 9.00pm.  The first episode is available on ITV catch-up services

Dead Like You – Peter James (Macmillan 2010)- A Murder They Wrote Review

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Okay, so I know I’m six years behind with the Roy Grace series but I enjoy James’ Brighton-set police procedurals so much that I ration them.  I realised that I did not read one at all last year (I had read two the previous year) so had to put that right.

This is book number six in the series where it is imperative to keep a list because of the similarity of the titles and look of the books.  I think things started off so strongly with “Dead Simple” and there was a slight fall in standard for the next couple but “Dead Man’s Footsteps” and especially “Dead Tomorrow” saw James upping his game once again to produce modern crime classics.  This one makes it three very good books in a row, suggesting that this is one of the most consistent of crime series.

For those of you who have already read it and are trying to recall which one it is from the never-that-helpful titles it’s the one about the shoes.  Now I know you remember.

We have two time frames- an abduction on Christmas Eve 1997 of Rachel Ryan, tipsily tottering home on high heels.  Her disappearance has remained amongst Brighton’s unsolved cold cases until a woman is assaulted after a New Year’s Eve party at the Metropole Hotel twelve years later.  It becomes clear that “The Shoe Man” has returned to terrorise Brighton.  A shoe fetishist who preys on women wearing new designer shoes leads DS Grace to dredge up the old case in search of clues.  I’m not sure whether I get so involved because I used to live in Grace’s stomping ground.  My visual impression is always strong reading these but I think this also has a fair bit to do with James’ talent for setting the scene.

Short chapters, tense writing and quite a few set pieces which are absolutely gripping.  It does at times make for very uncomfortable reading but the pace forces you on.  I think this is where the series is getting stronger as a couple of the earlier novels had noticeable fluctuations in pace but this kept me involved the whole way through.  I want to move straight on to “Dead Man’s Grip” but the pile of review books awaiting my attention means I will have to wait.

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Dead Like You was published by Macmillan in 2010.

Flesh And Blood – Mark Peterson (2012) – A Murder They Wrote Review

imagesN8KPZ1YTfleshandbloodI used to live in Brighton, East Sussex and so I know it well and yet I am glad that I did not know the Brighton Mark Peterson depicts in this debut. I do, however, recognise it. It’s as if the murky, grimy, edgy location of Graham Greene’s 1938 classic novel has been brought up to date. This is Pinkie’s Brighton for the 21st Century. It’s not a place that I would like to live in. I can’t imagine this book being on the top of the local Tourist Board’s reading list. Peterson even makes the penthouse suite of the Van Alen building, one of the city’s most prestigious addresses seem seedy. This, however, allows the author to offer up a powerful crime novel. It is the first of a series featuring the damaged DS Minter and I am certainly going to be adding the follow-up (A Place Of Blood And Bone- 2013) to my to-be-read list. Fans of Peter James will lap this one up (in fact it looks more like a Peter James than it reads like one, so the publishers are obviously angling for this market). Kemptown’s Serious Crime Squad are attempting to bust a drugs ring before rival gang tensions get out of hand. It is involving and gripping. Reading groups looking to see how an author sets up a crime series should consider this. It’s a thumbs-up from me and I am keen to see what happens to those loose ends Peterson purposely leaves dangling. fourstars

(This review has previously appeared on the New Books website)

 

My Top 10 Reads of 2014 – Part 1 numbers 10-6

It’s still January (well only just) so just to give you a better idea of me as a reader I thought I’d bring you my rundown of my favourite books read in 2014.  I got through 65 books last year ( a few less than previous years).  As I tend to be a bit of a book hoarder and, probably like most book bloggers have probably hundreds haven’t got round to reading yet piled up around the house I get pretty ruthless at the end of the year.  Anything which has been read and didn’t make my top 10 is out.  So here are the survivors that are still sitting on my shelves at the start of 2015.

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10. Dead Man’s Footsteps – Peter James (2008) – Read in March 2014

This is the fourth Peter James book I’ve read. My favourite so far is “Dead Simple” and this is not too far away from the standard of that. Like all the books I’ve read by James this features DS Roy Grace.   In Brighton, a body is found in a storm drain and a woman with a secret gets stuck in a lift (very tensely written). This is interspersed with a bit of back story- New York on 9/11 with a character about to have a meeting in the Twin Towers. All plot strands are handled well. It’s gripping and there are lots of twists and turns. There was a slight dip in the middle but things pick up nicely for an exciting last third. I enjoy these Brighton based novels (particularly as I used to live there) and there will be more from Peter James later on in this list, as he is the only author who features twice.

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  1. Dodger – James Benmore (2013) – Read in March 2014

This was a review copy I was sent by newbooksmag and my review can be found on their website www.newbooksmag.co.uk (make a note of it- don’t move away from my blog yet!) To stop you doing that here is my review.

Making a familiar character the centre of a new series of books is a brave move. Done well , it can overcome any introductory novel awkwardness, as it feels like we know the characters already- done not so well it can end up diminishing the characters’ previous incarnation. The Artful Dodger is such a great creation by Dickens and yet there is considerable unexplored potential. Probably James Benmore is not the first to realise this but, in his debut novel, he develops this potential so well that I am already looking forward to the next of the series.

Jack Dawkins returns to London after a period of enforced resettlement in Australia not knowing of the fate of Fagin, Nancy and Bill Sikes but on a mission which necessitates re-exploring his old haunts. He is accompanied by a compelling new character , his aboriginal “valet” Warrigal. Narrated superbly in Dodger’s voice this is an imaginative, involving and great fun tale with enough touches of Dickens and enough of a modern crime novel to make a potent brew. The odd familiar character pops up for a cameo but this is very much Benmore’s tale. This reinvigoration of the Artful Dodger is the best I have read using a previously established character. It is both refreshingly new and comfortingly familiar.nicetoseeit

8.Nice To See It To See It Nice – Brian Viner (2009)- Read in April 2014

This is subtitled “The 1970’s in front of the telly”. Viner hits home because he is exactly the same age as me with the same cultural references and he might have spent more time watching television as a youngster than I did! It seemed so familiar that I felt that at times I could have written this. But I didn’t, Brian Viner did and great credit to him. Some very funny little stories, a very journalistic approach and highly enjoyable. It was like reliving your childhood all over again. Nowadays, the sheer variety of leisure/viewing options means that such strong cultural imprinting would not be possible, in the 70’s a whole generation would know that you followed “Boom Boom Boom Boom” with “Esso Blue” , which would mystify today’s teens. I laughed out loud quite a few times, which I might not have done if I was somewhat older or younger but for me Viner got it more or less spot-on.

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  1. Ethan Frome – Edith Wharton (1911) – Read in October 2014

Up to this year I had never read any Edith Wharton. I put that right this year by completing this and “House Of Mirth” (1905) and “The Age Of Innocence” (1920). This was the book which impressed me the most. This is atypical Wharton in terms of setting (a bleak New England winter instead of New York), narrative (a story within a story – a la “Wuthering Heights”, a structure I’ve always warmed to) , class (the poor rather than the social climbers associated with her work) and character (a sympathetic lead). It’s a sparse tale of Ethan, who we know early on has been hit by tragic circumstances and in back story these reveal themselves as we are told the tale of his love for Matty, the cousin of his bitter, invalid wife who arrives bringing sparkle to his bleak existence. The sexual tension between the two, Frome’s turmoils of jealousy, despair and hope is extremely well done. The reader knows the outcome will not be good but the build-up is so effectively developed . This is a classic short novel. Sometimes, I can find it hard to commit to short fiction but this had me involved throughout.

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  1. The Suicide Exhibition: The Never War – Justin Richards (2013) – Read in January 2014

This was another book I was asked to review by Newbooks and here is my verdict- which can also be found on their website.

I don’t always get on with science fiction titles and too often series novels just stretch the story out too much for me but Justin Richards’ introductory title in “The Never War” series surprised me on both counts. This is a cracking, exciting start to a series. I can’t remember when I enjoyed a title marketed as science fiction more. It is also a thrilling tale of World War II. Strange sightings are coming up on the recently introduced Radar and it becomes evident that the Nazis are not only aware of this but are harnessing these strange forces in some way. Good characterisation, excellent use of “alternate reality” and a genuinely exciting storyline follows. The Sci-Fi aspects simmer and build rather than dominate the first of this series and hiding the threat of alien invasion amidst the paranoia of the war works superbly. The combination of Nazis and aliens might get not seem a match made in heaven but anyone searching for a thoroughly entertaining read (even if not a sci-fi fan) should check this out. Its accessibility and almost old-fashioned (in a good way) thrills suggest this should attract a wide readership. I’m looking forward to the second part.

So that’s numbers 6-10 with my Top 5 to appear in a separate post.