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This is the second installment of crime writer Peter James' DS Roy Grace series, and is a fine follow-up to the fast-paced action and gripping plotting of the opener, Dead Simple. Once again set in Brighton and advancing the story of Grace, a detective-by-numbers character with a heap of baggage and a knack for crimebusting, Looking Good Dead opens with a commuter named Tom Bryce discovering a unlabeled DVD on the train back from London.
In an attempt to trace the owner of the disc, Bryce sticks the DVD in his computer and watches in shock as he watches the exeuction of a man. He is considering going to the police with his discovery when the makers of the film track him down, and issue a clear threat; contact the police and we'll come after you.
Being a moral, upstanding fellow, Bryce declines to follow this advice and throws himself and his family into a web of darkness and intrigue which Grace will be hard-pressed to extract them from.
Every bit as gripping as the first book, Looking Good Dead is in some ways better than its predecessor - the characters have certainly started to grow here, and the over-familiar character types feel less hackneyed as they start to develop their own personalities. James is a talented writer, and does well to balance a tense plot with a noir-lite character study. This is as far as I've read in the series, but I'm looking forward to book three.
Tom Bryce is a young man with a young family, he dotes on his wife Kellie and adores his two small children. One day, commuting home on the train, he notices a man who has just disembarked has left his personal CD player on the seat. Doing the decent thing, Tom takes home the CD player so he can play the disc at home with a view to finding the man who lost it and returning the items to him.
This act of decency, however, lands Tom in the most horrific predicament. As he loads the disc into his computer he realises with growing horror that what he is watching is a snuff movie; a beautiful young lady entering a hotel room and being cruelly murdered for the benefit of a dreadful ring of people who enjoy watching such things. Unbeknown to Tom, this lady's death is being investigated by police after her mutilated remains were found. When the people behind the murder realise someone unknown to their 'circle' has accessed the footage they hunt Tom down, threatening to use his family as the next victims if he goes to the police.
This all sounds very basic, your run of the mill 'family in terror' style of novel. But it's not, Looking Good Dead is so much more than that and a story I very much enjoyed despite the rather gruesome plot. It's a fairly thin book containing just 400 pages, the font in the copy I have is slightly larger than average and this not only aids those of us with less than perfect eyesight but also seems to make the pages fly by.
I cannot remember if I have read anything by Peter James before, I suspect I have as his blunt and very forthright style of writing rung several bells as I was reading. He weaves the main story through a basic tableau of characters' lives, allowing the reader to take the excitement that is thrown our way but also fleshes his characters out extremely well to provide us with well rounded people who we can really believe in.
An excellent example of this is DS Roy Grace; the leading officer in the case of the murder of Janie Stretton, the woman Tom sees on the disc, Grace is wonderful at what he does for a living but does carry an alarming amount of emotional baggage around with him. His wife simply disappeared nine years ago, he has been unable to move forward in his own personal life due to this but during Looking Good Dead actually does begin to forge a relationship of sorts with Cleo Moray, a mortician he has dealings with due to her role within various police investigations.
I found some of the characterisations in Looking Good Dead to be extremely far fetched, strangely though they do work in the main. There are a couple of people within the book who don't actually seem to fit in terribly well with the story, but as the novel goes on you will see that the majority of characters are integral to the plot and at the very least add some information or leads for the fictional police to work with.
This novel is also chock-a-block full with stereotypes, which again work well but after the tenth nubile young beauty I'd read about I did start wondering where all the less than perfect women and men were. I suppose this did work to make the hectic and disjointed lifestyle of Roy Grace stand out. A good example of this is Glenn Bannister, Grace's partner and underling. A black detective with shaven head, he exudes an air of threat while still being completely personable; he did seem rather hastily put together to me and, while he was an enjoyable character, I think the author could have done better than allowing him to become the token black character as a snappily dressed 'dude' with a love of rap music - I feel James would have told us he was an incredibly good dancer if he could have fitted it into the story just to remind us once again than Bannister is black!
The characters of Tom and Kellie Bryce were excellent in my opinion, the children possibly less so but they feature so little in the novel that their underdevelopment didn't detract from the story at all. Tom has his own business, but hit by some hinted at economic crisis he is having to make cut backs. The problem is that Kellie can't stop spending; she frequently orders from internet auction sites and cannot see the problem with the money she's spending as she's getting 'bargains' - and it doesn't matter if the family don't need or can't afford her bargains, they are still bargains in her mind.
Kellie actually becomes less of a nice character as her story unfolds, I began with high hopes for her being a strong woman who will help Tom out of this appalling situation but I eventually felt let down for reasons I shall not disclose now. Tom, on the other hand, is excellent throughout. He is a strong character but with enough confidence in himself to ask for help and advice should he need it, faced with the possible execution of his whole family he still thinks of the murder of the young woman that started his nightmare.
I completely enjoyed reading Looking Good Dead; it's gritty, well thought out and extremely well written. Yes, there might be a few too many clichés within the story and some of the characters might not seem to 'fit' correctly, but overall it's an interesting tale which I found I couldn't put down for long periods of time as I had to find out what was happening to Roy, or Tom, or simply how the investigation was progressing. I warmed quickly to the majority of characters and sympathised with their situations, admittedly I've never been part of a Eastern European snuff ring so I wouldn't like to guess (or even think about) how realistic those portions of the book were but I would hazard a guess at them being fairly well researched as the descriptions were chilling in the extreme.
I cannot recommend Looking Good Dead highly enough, it might not be the most polished detective story you are ever going to read but it has that certain something which to me makes it a fabulous read. The characters and locations are perfect, as a Brit I do enjoy reading stories based in the UK rather than the American thrillers - which I also love, by the way, but a British author writing a British book makes a story seem so much more exciting.
One final thought, if I have tempted you to read Looking Good Dead do read on until the very last line. Remember, Tom Bryce's business is in trouble and the very final two lines of the story are a thought to himself about a piece of news he has heard - and they are highly amusing when taken in context with the rest of the story.
A paperback copy of Looking Good Dead can be purchased from Amazon for just £3.50, alternatively borrow a copy from the library and perhaps while you're there you might want to look at some of his other work.
When Tom Bryce picks up a CD left on the train, he little knows that it could be his biggest downfall. On playing the disc on his laptop, he finds himself watching a snuff movie. Then the 'owners' of the movie trace him and threaten him with dire revenge if he goes to the police. Tom decides otherwise, and soon finds himself and his wife under real threat - if he doesn't comply with his enemies, they will film the couple's death. DS Roy Grace is in charge of the investigation, which includes at least two murders. But Bryce's enemies always seem to be one step ahead of him. Can he get to the root of the problem before the Bryces die a painful, and public, death?
This is the second DS Roy Grace book that I have read; having read the first one, I was fairly confident that this would be a good read, and that it certainly was. I read a lot of crime fiction, and tend to get bored by fictional detectives, who all have their personal problems. Roy Grace, however, is a lot more palatable than many. He does have his problems - his wife disappeared nine years ago and he has no idea what happened to her, and his love life has since then involved a couple of visits to prostitutes when he needs to. In this book, however, he starts seeing Cleo, a beautiful mortuary technician, and although the relationship isn't entirely without its problems, his personal life is much more interesting than usual. I think, too, the fact that Roy and I are the same age really helped - I could identify with a lot of his fears and concerns, which made him that bit more human. As a policeman, he is hard-hitting and tough with his employees, so the glimpses into his personal life really help make him a much more rounded character. The fact that he is based in Brighton, at a site where I once spent a week observing the custody suite as part of a study, made him come even more to life for me - I could see him crossing the street to Asda because I've done it many times myself!
Although Tom Bryce is a one-off character, I thought he was very well developed. As many of the chapters are told from his point of view, we really get an insight into his life and why things aren't going all that smoothly as far as his work and his marriage are concerned. He is basically a well-meaning man, although one that chooses to keep things from his family, which makes it all the easier for the reader to get behind him - his only real mistake was picking up a CD on a train that he shouldn't have. I also liked the fact that his wife was a closet alcoholic - this is a problem that affects all too many people, and I thought the author dealt with it very sympathetically.
The story is told very well. In general, the chapters alternate between Roy Grace's perspective and that of Tom Bryce. However, there are odd chapters that deal with other characters, such as one of the murder victims, Grace's colleagues and the Bryces' enemies. This really kept me on my toes, and I often found myself reading a lot more than I had planned, simply because I needed to find out what happened after the cliffhangers at the end of each chapter. This was the case both for the story, and for Roy Grace's love life. And although the book initially seems very long at over 500 pages, it can be read very quickly because the chapters are kept relatively short - often no more than 4 or 5 pages.
This is crime fiction, and so a certain amount of bloody cadavers and police chases can be expected. However, it is a little more gritty than your average Agatha Christie, and there are a couple of scenes that some will find a little hard to read - one describes the death of a prostitute, the other portrays the death of a paedophile in a bath of acid. If you don't like this sort of detail, then obviously stay away from the book. There is also a fairly graphic sex scene between Roy and Cleo; although I expect that will encourage the majority of readers rather than frighten them off!! I quite enjoyed it anyway.
Like many writers of crime fiction, I wouldn't say that author Peter James is a literary genius. However, he does know how to tell a good story, and the prose and the speech patterns all flow very naturally. The language is fairly basic, but again, it suits this type of fiction, so I have no gripes there. To be honest, if you're expecting something of a higher literary calibre, then you should probably not be looking at crime fiction as a genre at all.
I have just one tiny criticism, althoug I have to admit that it may be a little unfair. It is just that there is a part of the story that involves a technical, Internet-related issue. Now, I am no expert in the area, but it didn't seem to ring quite true to me - so either it wasn't explained very well, or it wasn't researched properly - I suspect the former. Either way, I found it preyed on my mind a bit and did distract me from the story for a while.
Overall, I was very impressed with this book. It is generally quite a light read, apart from the odd disturbing description, and would be perfect for taking on holiday, or reading in short bursts while travelling on public transport. As it is the second Peter James/Roy Grace book that I have read and enjoyed, I will certainly look out for more in the series. I have dropped a star for the technical issue that bothered me, but apart from that, I definitely recommend this book to any fans of crime fiction.
The book is available from play.com for £5.49. Published by Pan Macmillan, it has 519 pages. ISBN: 9780330434201
Please note - this was originally published by me on ciao.
Peter James' 'LOOKING GOOD DEAD' is a follow up to 'DEAD SIMPLE', and I did not have the benefit of reading the latterly mentioned book before this so I may be coming from a slightly altered stand point to others that may read the book.
The book is part of a series, the Roy Grace series.
-Roy Grace - Dectective Superintendent in charge of the murder of a beautiful female law student.
-Tom Bryce - Individual unfortunate enough to be the sole witness of a brutal and sickening murder that would change the course of his own life, forever.
Tom Bryce, a commuter from Brighton, picks up a CD on a train left behind by an annoying individual. The CD contains a brutal murder on it and from this moment, his life begins to spiral out of his control.
Roy Grace, a policeman still leaving under a cloud left by the disappearance of his wife several years back, is investigating the murder of a young woman in the Brighton region whilst trying to move on with his life and find new love.
Bryce's life and the life of his family becomes endangered and a sick company showing deaths on the internet are the ones putting them at risk. Grace and his team try to work out the link between the murder and Bryce.
As previously stated, I had not read the prequel to this book, or in fact, any book by Peter James before so i had very limited knowledge of his work.
In essence this could be described as a crime thrillier.
From very early on you start to get the impression that James is excellent and building characters and getting the reader to develop an affinity for the main protagonists. Opinion forming on the characters, good or bad, is an important sign of a good book. Afterall, if you are indifferent to a character, then it is probably poorly written up or just badly developed.
There is a suspense level that is kept going throughout. We get to learn of a murder very early in the piece which is not uncommon but that level of early suspense is managed to the point where it is maintained throughout.
The ability to write a book that many levels in society could enjoy is also a great skill to have. At times, this intelligent thriller, spells things out for the reader.
If you like crime books, then this is an essential read . This should be the case as I personally am not particularly a huge fan of crime books but was genuinely gripped by this one and forced myself to read it all within the day, which is not advisable for health reasons unless regular breaks are taken! But the point is, if a non-fan can be gripped, a crime-read lover is surely guaranteed to enjoy the read.
Highly recommended - I shall look out for future Peter James work.
£4.19 on Paperback on Amazon.com
£9.09 on Hardcover on Amazon.com
Excellent value. I do not recall exactly what I paid because I purchased from ASDA around xmas 2006.
I bought this book (as I do with most of my novels) in a buy one get one half price deal from WH Smith so I'm not sure what I paid but the marked price is £6.99.
Peter James is by and large a crime writer and the main character, Roy Grace was also featured in his last novel "Dead Simple" but I have not read it and didn't feel I knew Roy any less for missing out on the last offering.
Tom Bryce: A family man in his mid thirties with his own company. Work is struggling which keeps him up in London for most of his week and his wife Kellie's has a spending habit that puts extra pressure on the already stretched bank balance.
Roy Grace: A detective superintendent married to his job, partly due to the fact that his wife Sandy disappeared on his thirtieth birthday, and has never been seen or heard from since. He controversially consults mediums with relation to cases he's working on and in the hope of receiving a message his wife.
The Weatherman: An IT whiz kid who's age and background aren't ventured into in any great detail. It's not immediately clear why his actual name isn't used at the start of the story but this appropriate nickname was given to him during school because of his habit of reciting the shipping forecasts.
The story is based in Brighton, I've only visited the place once or twice myself but I related to the writers description of the place immediately.
The book starts by introducing us to a young lady called Janie whose death is to become the reason for all the main characters to meet.
We then meet Tom who is returning to Brighton from London on a crowded commuter train. He is hot and bothered and focuses his bad mood on an annoyingly loud passenger who's talking into his mobile phone. When the annoying passenger leaves the train Tom spots that he has left a CD which he picks it up with the intention of returning it to the owner.
When he arrives home Tom loads up the CD onto his laptop in the hope that it may contain information about the owner however the CD logs him onto a website that seems to contain a video trailer in which a woman is being stabbed.
The very next day we are introduce to detective Grace who is called to the crime scene where a woman's body has been found, the head is missing which makes identification difficult.
The weatherman then pops up for a few pages, he seems to be involved with some foreign gangsters and is being used, but not paid, for his IT skills.
Tom then receives a warning for accessing the website unauthorized, this confirms his gut feeling that what he viewed wasn't a movie trailer at all but the warning threatens him not to speak of what he has seen.
I don't think I can really say too much more without reading the book to you but that should give you an idea of why the characters all end up involved with each other.
I absolutely could not put this book down!
We are throw into the 'story' very early on into the book and once the pace has been set it's not eased up on.
The characters, no matter how large or smaller part they play are all beautifully described, as are locations which really does create the feeling of being involved in the story.
I'm desperate to get hold of some of his other offerings as I've never been a fan of crime novels but this has changed my mind.