I’ve paused ‘Life and Death’ briefly for this review as I just recently read this book, I will get back to the recap/review after this.
I started reading the Roy Grace novels back in 2015 when I worked alone in a shop with very few customers so to pass the time I managed to get through the first ten of these books in a short space of time. I loved them! Yes, there were a couple that were a bit of a stinker but these books had such a variety when it came to murder mysteries from organ harvesting, snuff movies and a black widow. I also loved how the books were set in Brighton which is where I used to live at the time. There was something quite exciting reading your protagonist having a pint in your local pub or a headless torso found in the field behind your house. However, I started getting a bit disillusioned with the books every time the new one was released. However, I was hoping that the next one would go back to the glory days which it did with ‘Love You Dead’ but then I read ‘Need You Dead’ and my hopes went down the toilet. It was a mess and I want to discuss why this book was appalling and why I believe it is time the series was put to rest.
There will be spoilers so I would stop reading if you want to remain in the dark.
What is great about this series is that it isn’t just a murder mystery series where the characters are just 2D cut-outs while the murder is being solved. You have a wide array of characters but most of the focus is on Roy Grace who is the lead inspector for major crimes. We start the series with Grace as a workaholic policeman who still pines over his wife Sandy who disappeared without a trace ten years before the novels start. He starts to move on with his life and meets and marries a mortuary assistant called Cleo in which they eventually have a son together. However, through the course of the series the reader discovers that Sandy is still alive and lives in Germany with their son that Grace never knew about. Tragedy strikes when Sandy is hit by a taxi in Germany and then commits suicide but leaves Grace a note entrusting him with their son.
So when we pick up ‘Need You Dead’ you expect a lot of character development as Grace has a ten-year-old son and is described as a bit odd. However, we don’t get that as Grace flies to Germany, picks up Bruno and dumps him on his wife for the weekend as he can’t be bothered and would rather be at work. That comes across as beyond ridiculous as he was simpering the whole time about how he hopes his son will love him but instead just says “Whelp! Too much effort!” We barely have any insight into Bruno, considering he is meant to be bizarre, which I am calling it to be Aspergers and I will flip a table if it is as I am sick of aspies being labelled as weird and sinister. Anyway, I digress as we see nothing except Bruno playing games and holding the baby. I honestly feel that James would rather dazzle us with police procedure rather than character building.
This becomes painfully obvious with the rest of the support cast where they are either warped out of character or reset back to cardboard cut-outs. Grace’s wife Cleo starts the series off as a bright, witty and interesting character when they start dating, she loves her job in the mortuary and we would see her frequently in her place of work so we got to see her work dynamic and relationships with others. Not anymore, now she is there to strictly be Grace’s wife. All her characterisation is gone and all she does now is say ‘darling’ constantly and pamper Grace. She comes across as the perfect Stepford Wife rather than the independent woman she once was. She has no personality and all her conversations are about children, coddling her husband or joining a spa. We don’t even see her at work anymore even though we know she still works in the mortuary as it is explicitly stated that her back is a bit sore after carrying a 38 stone corpse. Yet, we never see her there anymore. She is just a 2D cut out to pamper our protagonist and that is lazy writing.
Cleo isn’t the only one though. Grace’s best friend Glen Branson has been reset to the first novel characterisation. At first he was there for comic relief with his interaction with Grace as he was the fun one and served to loosen up Grace so he could move on with his life. However, we see an arc with Branson. His wife leaves him and shacks up with another man fairly quickly leaving him devastated as she is restricting his time with his children. Then he is struck another blow when his ex-wife dies in surgery and suddenly has custody of his children and learning to juggle lone fatherhood with a demanding job. We see him recovering from his loss and finding love again with a journalist. He goes through a genuine character arc but that is all reset in ‘Need You Dead’. Branson goes back to being the 2D cut-out comedy relief but it isn’t funny anymore as he just repeats the same jokes constantly. We have heard these jokes for thirteen books now and they are just dried out and dead as this series.
Another character that had a genuine character arc was Norman Potting, a fifty-five-year old officer who is extremely impolitically correct. He tells bad jokes and is just a bit gross but he proves himself to be a shrewd and competent policeman and falls in love with Bella Moy who he clashed with in the early books. They are very happy together and Potting mellows which shows character growth. We see his grief when Bella dies in a fire and how he copes with that. Then we hit ‘Need You Dead’, it’s only been a few months since Bella’s death but Potting has been reset to his gross and pervy self when he starts eyeing up a young officer. This is just lazy!
Then we have our designated series villain ACC Cassian Pewe, who should be twirling a moustache while strapping some maiden to a train track. He is just a 2D villain and is nothing more than a thorn in Grace’s side but he just comes across as tacky and stupid. We have the backstory that he had an affair with Grace’s wife Sandy, which Grace does not know. I can see where this is going, I am convinced Pewe will be Bruno’s father because as if Grace would have an odd son, his sperm is perfect.
This leads us back to the characterisation of Grace and what makes their relationship worse is the cliff hanger where a dangerous hitman who magically goes from nearly brain dead to escaping a hospital ward in two days is treated by Grace as hilarious because HAHA! Pewe will look silly as he had to remove the 24-hour guard due to police cuts. This just makes Grace look childish and therefore doesn’t give Pewe any gravity as a villain as Grace isn’t worried or angry with him but is relishing in his humiliation. It also makes Grace look appalling as a very dangerous man is now free but all he cares about is his rival being humiliated, that comes across as callous and an idiot. This does seem to be a new element of Grace and it is not a pleasant one, as when he finds out his friend was the sort of killer (still very mixed though as James couldn’t be bothered to explain it to us) then he acts caring to stop him killing himself and promises to help him but when his friend fails Grace goes back on every promise he made and treats him like a cold blooded murderer which he is not as it was clearly an accident and he panicked. Grace just comes across as a petty man who doesn’t care about anyone but himself.
So all in all, the characterisation is appalling. Peter James clearly couldn’t be bothered with it and most of the characters could be puppets for all we know. I might have been forgiving if the plot was excellent but well, it really isn’t.
As I said earlier, I loved these books because the plots were exciting and different such as an organ harvesting ring. Sometimes the plots were obvious as Peter James has a tendency to make a fuss about a certain plot point which makes his twist obvious. The most damning one to me was in ‘Not Dead Enough’ where a man is arrested for murder as his DNA was found in each murder scene but was adamant he was not there but the minute James made a fuss that the suspect was adopted then it was obvious that he had a twin and they were separated at birth so when that twist happened I was not shocked. Yet, in ‘Need You Dead’ I feel that James took this to ridiculous extremes. I will explain via discussing the plot.
We start off with Lorna Belling who is in an abusive relationship with her husband Corin but she is having an affair with a man named Greg. She is furious to realise that Greg lied about his name and his relationship with his wife. She plans to confront him but things are escalating badly with her husband who violently attacks her and the police are called. She arranges to meet Greg at their secret rented flat and confronts him while she is in the bath. Greg is desperate to explain and she attacks him so Greg pushes her back and she knocks her head on the tiles. Greg leaves scared and returns an hour later to find her dead in the bath with a hairdryer in there which was attached to a dodgy wall socket so she has clearly been electrocuted. He cleans up and leaves in a panic. We learn via his point of view that he devastated and this leaves him to become desperate to save himself. What he does throughout the novel is hardly commendable as he tries to frame others but his POV shows him losing his sanity. We then jump into the Who Dunnit but it becomes more and more silly.
The police confront her husband but he runs away and dies in a car accident. The whole time it feels like I have James dancing naked in front of me waving signs telling me it’s him. Well, it can’t be as we only are only a quarter of the way through. This happens with several men, one is a detective on the case who looks dishevelled and stressed. Once, again James is naked and doing the dance of seven veils for me but with so much more of the book to go through it is just annoying as it is clearly his attempt at a red herring. He could have done this subtly but he didn’t, James makes so much of a fuss about his supposed ‘red herrings’ that they come across as lazy and stupid. As I am not stupid, it became obvious who the actual murderer was and no I was not surprised.
The plot was dull and slow with just a constant drum beat of ‘COULD IT BE HIM?! IT’S HIM!!!” followed by “WHELP! I guess not!” with a rinse and repeat. The plot just seems to be a constant police interview which is hardly exciting.
We then dive straight into the climax which is so rushed that it just feels like James’ wants this book done and dusted. We are hit with the news of who did it but considering it is an established character then it should have been given more plot time but it doesn’t. We have a stupid and rushed chase and once the culprit has been caught we rush through and skip his interview to find out why this happened. We also never find out how the hairdryer ended up in the bath tub which is terrible as that plagued the culprit as he was never sure if he actually killed Lorna or if it was an accident. We should know how that hair dryer got in the bath as it was an important plot point. It’s infuriating as we spent so long with James farting around with failed herrings and spending forever on explaining police procedures.
The latter has become a serious problem with the plot and story-telling. In the first few novels you don’t mind James explaining how murder inquiries, interviews and 999 dispatches work but now we are thirteen novels in which means we don’t need this as we know! The reader is not an idiot. What is worse is that he is taking longer to explain facts and information that we already know. It’s tedious and nothing but padding for the sake of laziness. I would rather have characterisation and plot rather than a copy and pasted police manual. I wonder if James does think his readers are morons as there is so much hand-holding going on, I think he must feel like he has to explicitly explain plot points and procedures because otherwise we would not understand his masterpieces. I find that insulting when authors do this as I do have a functioning brain.
‘Need You Dead’ pads where it is not needed but rushes so much in the end, he desperately tries to set up a cliff hanger but because he is incapable of not showing off about how much he has researched then he spoils it. Why am I going to be scared about a False Widow spider crawling on Grace’s baby when he goes to great lengths to explain to us that their bites are not fatal. He wants to show us his learnings but ruins his plot and flow of the novel and he is getting worse with every book.
Timelines and Continuity
The last section to discuss is timelines and continuity. There is no nice way of saying this but these are appalling. The series starts in 2005 and the books are dated as being set then but as they progress we get references to the changes and events in Brighton and the surrounding areas such as the 2012 London Olympics, the Ferris Wheel which came in 2011, the Shoreham Air Show Disaster in 2015 and then the building and opening of the i360 in 2016/2017. That would mean that if James followed this then his books should have spanned twelve years.
Yet, they haven’t, there are references to the hitman’s first appearance in ‘Need You Dead’ and was described as last year but that is impossible as the book was dated as 2011 so should have been six years ago. To keep his books relevant to current events in Brighton he completely destroys his timelines. It beyond enraged me that in ‘Love You Dead’ he describes how the i360 has just started being built but the events of that book between ‘Need You Dead’ are very close together, as ‘Love You Dead’ finishes at the end of February and the beginning of March but the events of the new book take place at the end of April beginning of May so it’s amazing how it went from being built to being open for a few weeks as a friend of Grace took his children on it which he said was a few weeks ago. He made sure the i360 was open so he could have his daring climax on that structure but that has made his timeline worse than it was as before it was vague references for colour but not now.
I may sound pedantic but I don’t think I am as I think it just comes across as sloppy and lazy. He should either refuse to date his work in the books so he can have all these changes to the setting and I don’t think I would mind that if we had no explicit dates but I get annoyed when it is explicitly dated but the events only span three years. That is lazy! You can’t have it both ways and I get infuriated that he lovingly describes police procedure every book but can’t keep his time line straight. It just shows that he doesn’t care about the world he has created.
These books are so obviously a cash cow now that James knows he can churn out sub-standard material that will sell well so he can roll in some more money. It is become more than clear that he knows he doesn’t need to put in the effort as he has rabid fans who will buy whatever tripe he throws at them and they don’t see how bad the characterisation and plot is. However, there is a growing section of the fan base who are becoming deeply unsatisfied with his work and many online reviews have said that they won’t buy anymore of the books and are sad about it as it was a series they loved. The cash cow has become a rotting horse corpse from being flogged too much and it is time the series wrapped up in the next instalment. It is hard seeing a series you loved and characters you enjoyed being reduced to 2D cardboard cut outs with sloppy and lazy plots that are injected with useless information and James dancing around naked spoiling the twists.
I know that won’t happen though, the money is too good and James has an easy way of bathing in money by churning out rubbish as those rabid fans will continue to lap it up and never criticise him. It’s a shame really and I doubt he will learn when to stop. Will I read the next one? I really don’t know as I still want to hope that the series will return to its glory days but I think if I do then I will buy it second hand just like all the other awful novels I review here.
Next time I will be back to ‘Life and Death’ as I am so close to the finish line and I’ll be free of Beau and Edythe!