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Dead Simple - Peter James
Member Name: calypte
Dead Simple - Peter James
Advantages: enjoyable enough, often gripping read
Disadvantages: bit padded, terrible product placement
When a stag night trick turns tragic the outcome is muddy: four dead bodies, one missing groom, and the only man still standing seems to not only have been missing from events but minus any information about it all. Something is just not quite right. Can Detective Superintendent Roy Grace - still not over the mysterious disappearance of his own wife - make this situation turn out more happily for the bride to be? It depends on whether her fiancé's done a runner or been left stranded by his mates - and if so, is time running out for him somewhere?
Dead Simple opens with the stag night prank in full swing, showing the details and the devastating accident that follows. I must confess, although absolutely gripped by these opening pages, I also found them a bit dark and uncheery, and had to put the book down for the night in favour of something lighter - I can only take so much murkiness before trying to sleep! Hardened fans of the thriller genre probably wouldn't bat an eyelid, but what can I say - I'm still a soft newbie! ;)
Unfortunately, when the tone lightens up a little, I also found myself losing a lot of interest in the story. Rather than staying with the attention-grabbing opening situation, the narrative shifts to focus on the new lead character in Peter James' work: the police detective, Roy Grace. This seems to be the norm for crime fiction, but I must confess I'm never that interested in the faces behind the 'good guys' that I think they should be the centre of the story and usually then a series. Still, Grace is not without his interesting points: several years ago his wife vanished without a trace, and still no one has a clue what happened to her. This seems to have kicked off an interest in the supernatural for the detective, although his superiors aren't keen on his use of mediums and other spiritual shenanigans when cracking a crime hits a sticky point. Throw in the fact that he's about to turn 40 and not happy about it, and a quest to find a new girlfriend, and we have - well, a character I found more than a little forced, to be honest. As I said, I'm not that bothered about the lives of the policemen behind the scenes - I'm here to read about crime! The constant referrals to one or more of Grace's 'quirky' characteristics soon bored me.
Of course, without all of that it would have been a much shorter book. At several points I was wondering how on earth there could still be so many pages left before the mystery was solved - presumably - at the end. We as the reader have what seems to be all the information pretty soon on into the story, meaning the middle section for me did feel very padded out and full of unnecessary side trips to Grace's love life, or details about what exactly he buys from the office vending machine. No, I'm not joking on that one! Serious slap on the wrist for this book for constant product placement - I couldn't believe how many references there were to specific chocolate bars or other brand names. And it's not just commercial: there are frequent mentions of current events or celebrities, which - while being more or less okay just five years on from publishing - will date this book very quickly. It also felt so forced, as if the author was trying to drag you into believing this is all real, part of our own world. I find the opposite tends to happen: the more you shout about Diet Coke, the more I'm reminded this is fiction.
Right, with the whining out of the way, I should really confess that after all those bumps along the read, I did end up gobbling down the last half of this book in just a few sessions. Because - thankfully! - it does all pick up pace and introduces layers of intrigue I for one did not see coming.
The later plot threads - nope, not even going to drop you any hints! - were introduced very well, I thought. Of course, a well-seasoned reader in the genre might not find the twists so unpredictable, but I rather enjoyed the way something you knew wasn't quite right turned out to be... oh, THAT?! Really? Wow! Perhaps one, maybe two, stretched credulity more than a little, but for the main part there felt to be a fairly logical path into a more twisted narrative than I'd been expecting.
Overall then I'm going to offer a middling 3 stars. I did enjoy the read and was kept pretty gripped especially through the finale. I make allowances for the fact that the thriller genre is not my main choice, but as a bit of a change in my reading matter I do enjoy them - and this one seemed at least average compared to my previous forays. Will I read more Peter James books? Hmm, maybe, but I can't say I'm rushing to the next one.
Paperback: 457 pages (Pan 2005)
First published in 2005
Summary: a reasonable if not brilliant addition to my thriller library