Dead Simple by Peter James

Michael Harrison, a rich and successful property developer, is on his stag night with four of his best friends.  As a prank, and to pay Michael back for the pranks which he played on some of them on their stag nights, they bury him in a coffin in the woods, with the intention of coming back for him a couple of hours later.  However, his friends are then killed in a horrific traffic accident (this all happens in the first few pages).  The walkie talkie which the friends left with Michael is found by a young lad who does not apparently have the capabilities to help, and nobody else apparently knows where Michael is.  The day after the stag night, with Michael still missing, his distraught fiancee Ashley Harper contacts the Police and the case falls into the hands of Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, a man still battling his own demons after the unsolved disappearance of his wife eight years earlier.

Grace and his colleagues try to find Michael – seemingly an impossible task.  They don’t know if he is in danger, but they don’t want to take any chances…meanwhile, time is running out for Michael.  With no food or water and no way of attracting help, he is getting desperate.  And the one person who should be able to help seems intent on remaining silent…

This book certainly grabbed me from the first page, with an explosive – if slightly implausible (would anybody really think that burying a friend alive is a good idea for a stag night prank?) – opening.  Although the book takes place over a short period of time, it moves quickly and I never got bored.

The chapters are short and choppy, and although it is told in the third person, the point of view of all the characters are shown.  I did find myself turning the pages quickly and always wanting to read “just another chapter.”  There are twists and turns aplenty, making it hard to guess how things were going to turn out.

Roy Grace is a great character – sympathetic and intuitive, and it was easy to warm to him and understand his thoughts and frustrations.  However, apart from this, I did think the characterisation was thin; most of the rest of the characters were very stereotyped.  However, as this is the first book in a series, some of the roles of Grace’s colleagues may be expanded on in future books.  As with most crime stories, this book is driven by the plot rather than by the characters, so the fact that most roles were not very fleshed-out did not detract very much from my enjoyment.

There were also some rather fantastical plot developments, so the story wasn’t entirely believable, but I was able to suspend disbelief enough for this not to bother me.

Overall, this is an undemanding read, and one which I found hard to put down.  I would certainly be interested in reading further books in the series.  Ideal for a holiday read (despite the subject matter), and one I would recommend to fans of Ian Rankin or Peter Robinson.

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