I blush to confess that this is the first of Peter James' many best-selling novels that I have read – but it certainly will not be the last. The writer and his story are so compatible. It is not simply that he has chosen to set it in the area where he lives, or even his intimate knowledge of police procedure - it is all about pace. He writes short, sharp chapters, which prompt you to read just a couple more, and the action moves swiftly between the various groups of characters.
His protagonist, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace of the Brighton Constabulary, is a fairly low-key, decent chap with a few hang-ups from his past. In contrast, his villains are extraordinarily evil, and the plotting is extremely ingenious.
We begin in the company of Jodie Bentley, and gradually learn her history. She comes from a comfortably-off middle-class family, who looked after her and gave her a good education. But – in her eyes at least – she is hideously ugly, whereas her sister, Cassie, is everyone's idea of beauty and a nice girl to boot. Her father and mother doted on Cassie, and treated Jodie with contempt. By methods undisclosed at this stage, she has cut herself off from her family. Cassie has been killed in a tragic accident. She has done well in business, paid for a lot of plastic surgery and been transformed into a sexy glamour girl (I find this just a little hard to believe). She has only one ambition in life – to find herself a mega-rich husband. She is well on the way to achieving this as she is engaged to Walt Klein, a top American money man. He is in his seventies, while she is in her mid-thirties, and they are just off to a fashionable Continental ski resort.
In the meantime; D.S. Grace is in pursuit of a serial killer who is in police custody in France, and is about to be extradited back to the UK. He is at the beck and call of his disagreeable boss, Cassian Pewe, and although now blissfully happily married to his second wife, Cleo, (who happens to be a forensic pathologist) he still worries about his first wife, who disappeared after leaving him. Grace receives a call from an NYPD colleague. The financier Walt Klein, who is under investigation for a Bernie Madoff-style fraud, has been killed in a fall from a sheer cliff in a French ski resort. His body was accompanied back to New York by his English fiancée, who in turn has vanished. She apparently lives in Brighton, and Grace says he will try to locate her.
Jodie Bentley is in turn being pursued by the Russian Mafia who are trying to recover an incriminating memory stick she stole from a one-night-stand she had with one of their colleagues; and this is only the start of the complications. The hit-man hot on her trail is Tooth, an old adversary of Roy Grace.
This fiendishly woven plot is carried off with incredible bravura, and gets more and more gripping as it moves on. Read and enjoy, as it comes as little surprise to see Love You Dead sitting at the No 1 position on The Times UK Hardcover chart.