Det. Supt. Roy Grace’s sophomore case is just as suspenseful as his first (Dead Simple, 2006), and just as wildly improbable.
Leaving the commuter train at Brighton, struggling entrepreneur Tom Bryce finds an unlabeled CD where a particularly obnoxious fellow-traveler had been sitting. He takes it home, idly boots it up and discovers in the few moments before it stops playing and begins to erase his hard drive that it’s a record of the brutal murder of Janie Stretton, the law student whose mangled body has launched the Sussex CID on a frenzied investigation. In short order, Tom gets an email with a dire warning from Scarab Productions: If he tries to open the program or contact the producers or the police, he’ll be killed along with his wife and children. While Tom is agonizing over what to do, Grace is having his own troubles. He’s under intense pressure to solve a case with no clues; the gruesome crime details he’s trying to keep secret in order to screen out crank callers are promptly splashed across the front page of the local tabloid; and his tentative advances to pathology technician Cleo Morey are thwarted by his grieving for his wife, Sandy, who disappeared without a trace nine years ago. Supported by the surprising compassion of his alcoholic, spendthrift wife, Kellie, Tom inevitably phones the authorities and then watches his life turn from a battle against recalcitrant clients and overdue bills to a battle of life and death. Because Scarab Productions makes special-interest films for a limited market, they approach the prospect of killing the Bryces as a business opportunity.
Despite echoes of Thomas Harris, the closer analogue is to Jeffery Deaver’s clock-racing thrillers. And if you can’t wait for Deaver’s next, James delivers the goods.