IT’S obviously far too late now but at least one of Britain’s top crime solvers needs a name change.
Having two of crime fiction’s best with the same surname gives readers one puzzle too many.
Is it Helen or Roy who is expected to respond when someone yells “Grace”?
Nor is there any easing of the confusion to have them operating within a few miles of each other.
Both are on England’s south coast.
Roy’s patch is Brighton and its Sussex hinterland. Helen’s manor fans out from Southampton.
Less than seventy miles between them. About ninety minutes along the A47 – although speed freak Helen would probably push her Kawasaki to do it in far less.
That’s not the end of it as Helen Grace and Roy Grace are ranking detectives.
Both have to cope wth irrascible and demanding superiors. And their mostly loyal teams usually have one undermining black sheep.
And, as mentioned, the reader is not helped when either are summoned with that call of “Grace.” The instant reaction is, “Who is this woman who has suddenly emerged?”
Although well familiar with the books of both authors (MJ Arlidge and Peter James), one still tends to stumble over such instances.
Everything would be so much simpler if one of them had undergone a change of name long before they became an indelible part of the crime fiction landscape.
Author Aldridge provides a further stumbling block by naming a female member of Helen’s team as Charlie. And her superior office, DCI Simmons, is yet another Grace.
What’s in a name? Lots.
Especially in the tricky realm of comprehension.
Triple treat of twists and turns
With that gripe off my chest, let’s take a quick dive into a triple treat of paperback detection along our Channel coast.
Two of the recent reads come from MJ Arlidge and feature his aforementioned lead character Det. Inspector Helen Grace. The other is from the ever-reliable Peter James, creator of the thoughtful and gently-does-it Det. Superintendent Roy Grace.
In All Fall Down, we are plunged straight into the action and the mystery. And so is well-heeled Justin Lanning.
His sudden dive is several floors down in the lift of his plush high-rise office building – until it comes to a juddering halt betweeen floors.
Before he has recovered enough to press the emergency button, his own phone rings.
Still shaken and panic-stricken it does little to ease his shattered nerves to hear the words of a mystery caller: “You have one hour to live.”
The caller hangs up, the lift smoothly continues its journey to the basement car park where Justin’s chauffeur driven hire car awaits to ferry him home.
But its does more than that. It goes the extra mile or two, which is not part of the service.
The driver takes a different and unfamiliar route. Picks up speed. Locks the doors.
He ignores Justin’s calls for him to stop.
Which means next morning DI Helen Grace has one more murder to solve.
Justin’s body has been dumped on a lonely industrial site. He has been garotted.
And that’s all in the first few pages which manage to pack in as many as nine chapters.
Scenes switch rapidly from place to place, from character to character faster than any action movie. A true page-turner.
It soon transpires that Justin was among a clutch of children abducted and tortured by a killer Daniel King. When five escaped their remote farmhouse prison, King killed the one girl remaining, torched the premises and fled. He had never been caught but claimed sightings of him were regularly reported.
Among the survivors is Maxine Pryce, the author of a recently released book recording the group’s horror time in King’s control.
Not only was she being pressured by Justin for a share of her royalties but also by maverick journalist Emilia Garanita – a permanent thorn in Helen’s side.
Excerpts from Maxine’s book intersperse the main narrative. These open more dark trails for Helen’s team to follow. More suspects are hinted at.
Is Maxine herself Justin’s killer? Wreaking belated revenge for what occurred during their abduction.
Another of the group receives the one-hour alert of the impending death. And is killed.
The web of suspects spreads wider and wider. Becomes a maze of false leads and dead ends.
Helen plunges in, taking scant notice of normal procedures and frequent admonitions from her superiors.
She leads her team on a giddy, head-spinning and impulsive daredevil chase. The risks arre immense, lives are put on a knife-edge.
All played out against a background of Helen’s troubled home life and affairs. To say nothing of the credible dramas of her team’s domestic turmoils.
A gripping nail-biter from start to finish.
Making criminal connections
Riding cocksure and determined through the long sequence of MJ Arlidge books featuring DI Helen Grace is her dark nemesis Emilia Garanita.
Emilia’s main mission in life, apart from reporting on Southampton’s multitudinous crimes, is to bring down Helen Grace.
Early on in Truth or Dare (which follows neatly on from All Fall Down) she senses success will be hers.
She now has an invaluable mole within Helen’s tight-knit team – one willing to feed her insatiable appetite for publishing any scuttlebut that will put Helen well on the wrong side of her superiors.
Dishonour and dismissal will be inevitable.
The machinations of Garanita and her mole are but one of many obtstacles Helen has to overcome as she battles a baffling succession of crimes. And readers are faced with yet another naming dstraction in DCI Grace Simmons, Helen’s antagonistic boss.
A pattern slowly emerges from what at first seem random and disconnected crimes. They are not the work of separate criminals. There is a mastermind at work.
Clever, intriguing plotting of the “ooh I didn’t see that coming” variety is the result. It is edge of the seat stuff – for readers as well as DI Grace as she hurtles through the city always one step behind her target.
And her mental strength being sapped by fractures among her once loyal team.
It is a rattling, fast-moving page-turner of a book. The tenth in a series that merits being read from the very beginning.
And there is more soon to come.
Fine art shenanigans
Peter James has spent many years writing TV and film scripts. And this is brilliantly evidenced in the many crime fiction books bearing his name.
The characters, settings and action are so vividly depicted. This pulls the reader ever onward, flicking pages as if watching the TV screen fast forwarding from one action shot to another.
Little wonder that James’ doughty detective inspector Roy Grace is now featured in a series of TV crime dramas, admirably played by John Simm.
In Picture You Dead everything kicks off when stolidly suburban Harry and Freya Kipling are enjoying their usual Sunday outing visiting the local car boot sales.
And they achieve every car boot addict’s dream. They strike gold.
Or rather the equivalent of gold in the form of what Harry believes is a rare and long lost painting.
The couple’s imagination runs riot. Unbelievable riches. A fortune way beyond a win on the Pools. Millions await.
But first they need confirmation.
And therein lies the rub. Who can they trust? Not only to give an honest appraisal but also to guard the secret of their lucky find.
As anyone who has watched TV’s Fake or Fortune? well knows, the fine art world is riven with treachery, double-dealing, fakes, rogues and charlatans. A cesspit where a few secretive and autocratic beings can degrade or elevate a painting’s worth with a few terse words. There’s no appeal, no second opinion.
Within a day of Harry stepping into this world, there is a bloody murder. A renowned art dealer has been bludgeoned to death inside his security-tight home.
From there the dazzling plot twists and turns, doubles back on itself and takes several unexpected detours.
Frames are swapped. Paintings are copied and exchanged. Which is the real artwork, which is the fake?
And the death toll rises.
This is familiar territory for Roy Grace and, of course, for Peter James. There is soon “a long, long trail a-winding . . .”
The author never fails to disappoint, and this is one of his best as we are led a merry dance through Brighton’s underworld and the dark shadows behind fine art’s glittering facade.
Very highly recommended.
And then there is . . .
Also recently read and much enjoyed is A Gift For Dying — an MJ Aldridge story without Det Insp Helen Grace.
This is totally different territory. Into the eerie world of forensic psychologist Adam Brandt to come face to face with scary teenager Kassie.
It takes her one look into their eyes for her to detect a serial killer.
Be scared, be very scared. Kassie is one helluva a character in one helluva a book.