The One with the Nail-Biting Ticking Clock

Peter James, Dead Simple (2005)

In holidays, we mostly stay in rental apartments rather than hotels, and I immediately find myself even more at home when the place has a bookshelf. Sometimes it’s only yellowing bestsellers, but sometimes I do find something great! This summer, our rental near Glasgow was perfect for so many reasons(*), and the bookshelf was one bonus point. In addition to children books, there were thrillers set in Scotland, but the premise of Dead Simple was so riveting that I had to choose this one, even if it wasn’t set in the area!

The first few scenes are seen from the point of view of Michael Harrison, a successful young businessman who is getting married in three days. He’s having his stag night with his mates, and their idea, partly to get revenge from his previous practical jokes, is to get him drunk and passed out, then put him in a coffin (with a breathing tube, a walkie-talkie and a porn magazine) and to put the coffin into the ground. Their plan is to scare the hell out of him and to dig him up again. But… I’m not spoiling things for you if I reveal that on the way back from the deed, they have a road accident where they are killed.

Then the classic police procedural kicks in with policemen called upon to investigate the disappearance of Michael Harrison. There are secrets and twists and turns, but without the punchy head start of the buried coffin and the ticking clock, the book would be a bit on the predictable side. But the chapters of Michael Harrison are making it worthwhile and will probably the stuff of nightmare for readers prone to claustrophobia (even for the others, I guess).

This book is the first in a successful series featuring Brighton-based Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. He’s the stereotypical flawed character with a past (his wife disappeared and he has been trying anything – including psychics – to find her, to no avail), but I didn’t quite warm up to him. Often in a long series, the main character needs a few more episodes before finding his true voice, so I hope it’s the case here. I do wonder if I haven’t read another Peter James in my pre-blog life, but I wouldn’t mind trying another in the future.

(*) if you happen to go there, I’d be happy to recommend the place, e-mail me for complete references.

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One thought on “The One with the Nail-Biting Ticking Clock

  1. Oh my goodness, this sounds really good, but I am very claustrophobic, so I just don’t know if I could take reading it! He’s a very popular author with mystery readers at my library branch. Maybe I’ll try one of his others without the buried alive angle? 🙂

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