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...but definitely on the way out!
on 22 February 2013
I've been a Peter James fan from early in my 20s when I read his older novels, such as Twilight, Host, Alchemist, Dreamer, Sweetheart, Possession. I devoured them and was continually freaked out by how scared they could make me feel when other thrillers just didn't engage me in the same way. His experience across several different areas meant he could write authoritatively, and descriptively in such a way that brought his stories, and his characters, to life.
So I was delighted when the Roy Grace series came out and became such a hit. I looked forward to each book with bated breath, bought each one when they came out and couldn't wait to read them.
This brings me to Roy Grace 8 "Not Dead Yet".
Not Dead Yet is, for the most part fine. It's a novel, about a few murders, a Detective, a celebrity & a couple of nutters. The story in itself is ok, if not mostly predictable. The predictability is a real shame, because one of the main things I loved about Peter's previous books was that certain plotlines would remain hidden, often in plain sight for most of the book, then just leap out at me, as they should, during a 'big reveal' that I was not expecting. However, with this novel, I saw the twist plotting a route and enjoying the journey towards me long before it was finally ready to deliver itself to me. A minor character appeared, had a long back story filled in then disappeared only to pop up again for a few lines. I guess he's being primed to appear in a future book because his introduction brought nothing to this one. The revealing of a secret 'romance' between two completely unlikely suitors feels desperate and strained, and a 'surprise' element in the last few books was a nice try to shake things up but I was left feeling like the author is literally making it up as he goes along. Perhaps he's dragging it out as long as possible until there's no more road left in the Grace series and he can use this overused plotline to pad it out a bit futher.
Although as I said earlier, my real beef is not with the actual plot of the book, although it's nowhere near the quality of the early books in the series. My problem is with the characters.
Roy Grace used to be, in many ways, a stereotypical cop. He had relationship issues (missing wife) and so hit the bottle a bit harder than he should. He had a mate called Glenn that he worked with, and liked, but he was a well-rounded, relatively tough cop, who had respect from his colleagues and obsessed by his work, could always get the job done with a sprinkling of drama and bravery. Let's say, if this series was made into a TV drama, he might well have been played by Robson Green. With stubble.
Fast forward, Glenn and Roy have developed quite a serious bromance over the intervening years. Roy loves Glenn lots. So much so he almost cries when his friend is upset because his kid's Mum won't let them meet a famous pop star. Um, ok. This guy was tough enough to qualify as a DI?
Then we have Cleo. Cleo who is 'stunningly beautiful' and many, many gushing adjectives. According to Roy, Cleo is the singularly most understanding, most beautiful, most forgiving, most intelligent, most hardworking woman in the world. There is no-one like her. There are literally no bad points about her at all. She is perfect. He is now devoted to her and she is the most important thing in his life. It's so unrealistic it's embarrassing. Don't even get me started on their dialogue - I firmly believe if you don't write something well, don't write it. The author should definitely steer away from 'sweet nothings' dialogue in future!
In a nutshell, Roy's character seems to be getting less interesting by the book. Now he has Cleo, and a baby on the way, he doesn't drink any more, except responsibly during dinner, he works out every day and is kind and good in everything he does. Glenn and Cleo suffer from the same 'niceitis' - they may be great and admirable people, but they're also very boring.
We then see Roy interact with his crack 'homicide' detectives, all of which have specific character traits that we are reminded of every time we enter the office (inappropriate jokes, eating malteasers etc). When addressing them at a particularly tension-filled meeting, he raises his voice above what I assume to be a gentle purr and actually GLARES at someone who has made an inappropriate comment. However, far from being the norm, this is described as "uncharacteristic". Because Roy Grace is just so NICE. So here we have a Detective Inspector that doesn't raise his voice at his team, won't look at them sideways when they mess up and who can't bear to hear a risky joke or derogatory comment without telling the perpetrator off? Come on, he'd never have made it past being a beat bobby.
Unfortunately, in making Roy Grace a 'better' person, it appears that Peter James has completely emasculated him. He is a shadow of his former self, led by the tail, nice to absolutely everyone, even the mad, bad and dangerous, doing his terribly hard and risky job without a shade of cynicism or a bad word to say to anyone. Heck, if he swatted a fly he'd probably feel guilty for days.
To go back to the TV analogy, Robson Greene as Roy Grace was a bit rougher round the edges, multidimensional, interesting, complicated, tougher, real and believable. Unfortunately he's slowly but surely being replaced by a cardboard cut out of John Barrowman.
To be honest, I'm not sure why this decline has happened, but I suspect the pressure to release at least one book a year means that quality is being replaced by quantity. Perhaps releasing Perfect People caused it, but Roy Grace either needs to "man up" (I hate that phrase but it fits here!) or he needs to be pensioned off to a nice home in the country.