Review: Dead If You Don’t by Peter James

Dead If You Don't

Peter James

Roy Grace Series

July 1, 2018

Dead If You Don’t by Peter James is the 14th book in the Roy Grace series.

Kipp Brown stared at the text, from a number he did not recognize, that had pinged in on his phone. He read it a second time, then a third.

Mr. Brown, we have your son. We have also connected to the Amex Stadium CCTV network. If you call the police, or seek to speak to any officer in the stadium, you will never see Mungo alive again. We will always know exactly where you are and who you talk to. We will see everything you do and hear everything you say. In the meantime, leave the stadium now, go home and we will contact you soon with our requirements for saving Mungo’s life.

The 14th installment in the Roy Grace series starts with a bang—almost literally. It’s opening day of the new season at Amex Stadium in Brighton, and the stands are packed with thousands of excited fans ready to root for the home team. Then, Adrian Morris—Head of Safety and Security at Amex—receives the phone call he never wanted to get.

An accented voice assures him that there is a bomb in the stands—

That hundreds of screaming football fans will die—

That this day will go down in history—

Unless he pays a quarter of a million in Bitcoins.

While Morris panics in the control booth, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace and his son are sitting on the other side of the stadium. Just as the game begins, Grace’s ever-vigilant eye falls on a young man in a red hat who seems far too nervous for a mere footie match.

At the same time, businessman Kipp Brown—inwardly reeling from a long string of incredibly bad gambling losses, frantic to turn his luck around, and worrying about how he’ll pay next month’s mortgage and tuition fees—looks away from his teenaged son, Mungo, for mere minutes as he glad-hands a client. When he turns back, Mungo is gone. Mr. Brown receives his own nightmarish phone message—and spirals directly into Grace’s path.

“You be OK,” one man said. “Tide going out. Is good. When tide come back in, is not so good.” He laughed and so did his companion.

Strong hands on Mungo’s shoulders suddenly forced him down, and he sat on the narrow plinth of the cannon, water lapping around his waist. Then, despite his feeble attempt to resist, the noose was pulled down over his head and tightened around his neck. As he moved his head, he felt it sharp against his skin.

“Like razor wire. You move, you die,” one of the men said.

The other help up a phone and took a flash photograph. Then they began walking, splashing, away.

“Don’t leave me, please don’t leave me,” Mungo tried pleading. But it just came out as a series of muffled grunts. “I can’t move my arms. Please.”

He only heard more laughter…

Dead If You Don’t, like all Roy Grace mysteries, maintains a near breakneck pace from page one.

Colorful characters—desperate young women, ruthless Albanian mobsters, frantic family members, a ragtag group of police and medical examiners—collide and ricochet with often violent results.

In a mere three days, we witness kidnappings, murders, botched drug smuggling, torture, thwarted cover-ups, double-crossings, bombings, and breathless rescues. The full scope of the interconnected events is so wide and far-flung that not even our sharp hero Grace sees or understands everything.

James has once again crafted a novel as thrilling as an action movie, brimming with blood and authenticity. He balances the gritty realism of a plausible criminal underbelly with some flourishes straight from a James Bond adventure: one of the key villains has a glass eye, a prosthetic hand, and a pet crocodile in his basement. It’s over-the-top, yes, but it certainly adds flair to the proceedings.

There are a few moments when the narrative slips out of drive so we can see the full scope of police procedure, but those moments showcase James’s extensive knowledge while simultaneously giving us necessary seconds to catch our breath.

And even with a sprawling cast of ne’er-do-wells and dogged detectives, James finds the time to add a dash of social commentary on the nature of refugees and immigration too:

“That’s the problem we’re up against with them. They settle their scores violently and sometimes publicly. They don’t trust us.”

“I don’t think it’s Sussex Police that they don’t trust. It’s the whole notion of authority. They’ve had a very different upbringing in their country from us here. Years of living in a brutal police state, of community suppression under a monster dictator—Enver Hoxha. I seem to remember he once proudly declared Albania to be the world’s first atheist state. For generations, they’ve lived in terror of authority, terrorized by corrupt officials. I don’t think that culturally they can accept the idea that police officers could be decent people, because never, in all their history, have they been able to trust their own police. That’s the hard task in front of us—to change that.”

This may be the 14th installment in the series, but it’s not an inaccessible entrance for a newcomer. There are a handful of moments that are richer with prior knowledge of the characters, sure, but James does a smashing job of giving just enough backstory to carry any newbies along without confusion.

The stakes, this time, aren’t that personal for Grace. But he still manages to put his life on the line more than once, daring bureaucratic censure and drowning in his quest to reunite a misguided kid with his frantic (if somewhat felonious) father.

If his investigation inadvertently thwarts a few Albanian gangsters at the same time? Well, that’s just par for Grace’s course.

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