I just finished NDE. What a book! I had to put my life on hold for 4 days to finish it! I haven't done anything for 4 evenings except read this novel. I really couldn't put it down.
As always, it had everything I look for a PJ novel: detailed research; brilliantly developed characters; pace; smooth, flowing writing; sparkling dialogue; and an interesting, engaging plot. But of course it's more than the sum of these factors that make me addicted to James' books. It's the X factor that so many lack. I noticed it for the first time when I read Dreamer all those years ago. I don't really think it would matter what type of novel the author penned, in whatever genre. It would still grip me. It's the STYLE, man...
This is crime writing at its very best. As other reviewers have pointd out, James is never one to stint on trivial but important details. For instance, I loved reading about Grace's trip to Munich. Reminded me of my own visit a few years ago, though under rather different weather conditions (i.e. freezing cold). He could have just described the visit in a short chapter, but the details and descriptions of settings and people made it really come to life. The same thing applies to all the little details he puts into his books - character traits and faults that make people human. Their ambitions and shortcomings. I esp. love the fact that he's always willing to surprise the reader and that there are no easy answers or solutions; and few coincidences. The people in a PJ story have human failings and don't always get things right. Grace is a pretty average, intelligent bloke, and all the more likeable for it. I also love the Branson and Potting characters. I hope they're going to be around in future Grace novels. Great team spirit and camaraderie in this particular police force!
There's a particular kind of character that James has always written about - you recognise them straightaway. Brian Bishop is one such character: confident, wealthy, a touch arrogant, assured etc. However, in NDE he proves that he can deal with some truly memorable low-lifes too. Witness the fascinating Skunk, someone who we follow for a good part of the book and end up feeling sorry for when ... well, that would be giving it away, wouldn't it?
This is likely to be one of the best novels of 2007, at least in my opinion. It deserves to sell by the bucket-load. Here's till the next Grace novel!