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Not Dead Enough

by Peter James (Macmillan, 2007)

It’s been my theory that a series usually reaches its peak, or at least its full potential, in its third book. Not Dead Enough, which is Detective Chief Inspector Roy Grace’s third outing, seems to support that premise. A series of impossible murders coupled with some personal angst and a decent bit of suspense, at least in the first half, adds up to a decent, though not brilliant, weekend read. Though most readers will see the resolution much before it’s actually revealed, there’s still a sort of sting in the tail.

It seems like Brian Bishop has pulled off the perfect crime—murdered his wife and been out of town at the same time. On the one hand he has an airtight alibi; on the other the evidence against him is pretty damning as well. How is it possible that he’s been spotted by witnesses, captured on CCTV and his DNA has been found at the crime scene, even as it is pretty certain that he most likely miles away at the time of the murder? The bodies pile up and the scales of evidence weigh heavily against Bishop, but DCI Roy Grace and his team seem unable to unravel exactly how Bishop could have managed it. Is a very clever identity thief at work?

Meanwhile, Grace’s relationship with Cleo Morey seems to be getting serious. Just when it looks like he might be ready to move on from the disappearance of his wife some nine years ago, he receives a tip that she might have been spotted in Munich. Grace makes a whirlwind dash to Germany, leaving behind a confused Morey. Grace isn’t the only one with relationship issues&dmash;his friend and colleague Glenn Branson has been thrown out of his house by his wife, and is camping out at Grace’s, much to the latter’s annoyance.

Not Dead Enough clips along at a decent pace, though one figures out how these “impossible” crimes were committed quite easily. The answer, it must be said, needs some suspension of disbelief, albeit some racy writing saves the day. Just when you think you have it all wrapped up, Peter James produces one last twist. It’s no less unbelievable, but at least it takes you by surprise. And thankfully, DCI Grace does not indulge in any supernatural pursuits in this book.

If James has one weakness, it is writing relationships. Grace and Morey’s trysts are lamentably cringeworthy—do people really say things like “God, you’re so gorgeous” to each other in the throes of passion? The relationship seems rather superficial, with Grace trying to “better” himself by reading serious books, going to operas and reinventing his wardrobe (or was it a new hairstyle?) for a women who conveniently happens to be 12 years younger than him. (Also, I’ve ranted enough about the women in the series, so I shall refrain.)

Overall, if you put the niggles aside, Not Dead Enough is an interesting book. Skunk’s storyline could have been dealt with in less detail—unless it’s a thread that will be picked up later. Even though I don’t like Grace (and the way women are depicted in the series), the books are around in second-hand stalls quite a bit, so I shall continue reading. For now.

RATING: 7/10