Thursday, October 08, 2020

Rendering Judgment Under Duress

By Jim Napier
Full disclosure: I am an unabashed fan of British thriller writer Peter James. His 2005 debut novel in the Roy Grace series, Dead Simple, is a contemporary classic, outshining even Edgar Allan Poe with its masterful plot and ever-building suspense, and it served as a launching pad for his record of more than 20 million books sold to date. Yet I must confess, I was somewhat dismayed by the plot of his 16th Brighton, England-set Grace novel, Find Them Dead (Macmillan UK): a villain is arrested for a major crime, of which he is guilty. The evidence against him is overwhelming. If convicted, he faces serious prison time. So he seeks to nobble the jury by making one member an offer he or she cannot refuse: not money, but the life of a loved one.

Of course, that plot had been done several (many?) times before. What could even a gifted writer such as James possibly add that was fresh? Was I in for a major disappointment?

I needn’t have worried. Find Them Dead is an absolute corker of a thriller, in which a young woman traveling through South America during her gap year is in mortal danger. Unknown to her, her every action is being monitored by the villain’s henchmen, and it is clear that only one thing will save her: her widowed mother, Sarah Hope, sitting on that jury, must hold out for a full acquittal of the defendant on trial. Anything short of that, including bringing in the police, will result in the death of her daughter. Drawing on the resources of the Internet and other high-tech means of surveillance, the criminals make it clear that they are in total control of Sarah’s life: they are monitoring her calls, and know where she goes and who she sees. They can enter her house at any time, leaving clear signs that they have been on the premises. And as the jury moves to determine the villain’s fate, Sarah is reminded that if she fails to convince a majority of the jury to vote for acquittal, her daughter will die.

Peter James deftly navigates the terror faced by this woman, and her increasingly desperate attempts to protect her daughter, as the trial moves inexorably toward its conclusion, while Detective Superintendent Roy Grace remains—at least initially—oblivious to the whole situation.

Readers familiar with these books will encounter the latest developments in the myriad subplots that define Roy Grace’s life. A serial killer and former nemesis who almost killed Grace, Dr. Edward Crisp, is coming up for trial, and the DS is concerned that he may well be planning yet another escape attempt from custody. Grace’s wife, Clio, is expecting their child, and Grace cannot put aside the complex relationship they have with his son, Bruno, by a former marriage. He also finds himself locked once again in combat with his superior officer, Assistant Chief Constable Cassien Pewe, who seems perversely determined to make Grace’s existence a misery, despite the fact that the detective recently saved his life.

All in all then, Find Them Dead is a finely plotted, atmospheric, and superbly written addition to the Grace canon, and I was rash to consider, even for the moment, that its author was not fully up to the job. It marks a new high point in what is already an impressive series of stories, as good as anything out there. Well done!

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Jim Napier is a novelist and crime-fiction reviewer based in Canada. Since 2005 his book reviews and author interviews have been featured in several Canadian newspapers and on multiple Web sites. His crime novel Legacy was published in April 2017, and the second installment in that series, Ridley’s War, is scheduled for release in November 2020. Napier can be reached at

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