In January, I tipped Peter James' Brighton-based detective Roy Grace as a potential successor to the soon-retiring John Rebus as King of the UK coppers. In March, at the Galaxy British Book Awards, Grace's second outing, Looking Good Dead, finished runner up to Rankin's latest novel, The Naming of the Dead, in the BCA Crime Thriller of the Year award. I'm told the voting was very close.
Next month, Grace is back on the streets of Brighton again, as Not Dead Enough (nobody is going to mistake any of these morbidly-titled books for fluffy romances) comes on to the shelves on June 1.
In it Peter James makes another powerful case for being regarded as one of the UK's foremost (ie top two or three) writers of crime fiction.
Once again James has pulled together a complex plot that draws from all strands of Brighton society: from the socialite wife (found strangled in her own bedroom wearing gas mask) to the juiced up junkie (stealing "rich bitch" Audi convertibles to order). And with them he draws a convincing picture of our disparate society in which rich and poor co-exist, largely ignoring each other until violent circumstances throws their lives together.
James is very good at the background noise. What makes his characters convincing and realistic (and in some cases empathetic and others not so) is that the lives they lead that are central to his plot - whether it be team-leading detective or businessman-suspected-of-murder - do not occur in a vacuum. James takes the time to give them the stresses, strains, aches and pains, joys and sorrow that make people what they are, and he manages to do so without holding up the narrative. He also brings the charms of Brighton to life, making the book a rich immersion experience.
The great crime fiction series have all these things: terrific characters who change with the passage of time; powerful, varied plotting studded with unexpected twists and turns; a sense of time and place. They have to have or else they quickly become stale. The Grace series has all these in abundance at present, and one can only hope that the thoughtful, down-to-earth Sussex copper is set for a long run.
In Not Dead Enough, Grace grapples with two problems: the dead socialite for whose murder her husband is the prime suspect (despite a pretty reliable alibi) and a sighting of his own wife, Sandy, in Munich years after she disappeared without trace.
In emotional turmoil, Grace tries desperately to find breakthroughs in both his searches as the body count escalates in the murder inquiry and his own anxiety mounts in the other. The murder inquiry is hampered by Grace's increasing realisation that while all the evidence points towards husband-as-murderer, his alibi is firm.
And eventually he realises in both his quests that nothing is quite what it seems, and his murder investigation races towards a conclusion that is terrifyingly close to home.
This is another astonishingly good outing for Peter James, and I can't help but feeling he's going to find himself accompanying a great many people to their beach holidays this year.