In real life, British author Peter James rides regularly with the Sussex police on their rounds. This fascination with police procedures and the milieu of law enforcement is amply displayed in his best-selling Roy Grace crime novels, now in its 11th installment with You Are Dead.
A young woman named Logan drives into the darkness of her apartment’s parking garage and disappears into thin air. Before her cell phone goes dead, she screams to her boyfriend that someone is lurking near her car. At almost the same time, local construction workers unearth female human remains while digging through the pavement at a nearby building site. The 30-year-old skeleton that’s uncovered turns out to have strange similarities to those of Logan as well as to another missing young woman. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace and his Brighton-based crime team begin the detailed and painstaking work of uncovering and linking the common elements in these missing persons cases, revealing evidence of the abduction and murder of several young women going back decades. The investigation takes an eerie turn when the forensics team discovers evidence of a tattoo or brand marked on the excavated human remains, reading “U R Dead.”
The book’s most engrossing chapters follow the criminal task force as they search for the small details that may identify the killer. In more grisly chapters, we see aspects of the killer’s methods from another viewpoint, that of Logan, imprisoned in the dark and awaiting horrors she can barely imagine.
You Are Dead is an accurate, unsettling and sometimes mesmerizing depiction of the ways in which a crime squad carries out what seems an impossible task—identifying a killer starting with nothing more than a blurry footprint and unidentified, decades-old human remains. The task force detectives’ work makes readers feel immersed in the detection process from start to finish in a way not often related in such detail in crime novels. Occasionally there’s an “oh, please” moment, as when Grace moves into a hot-button danger scene alone rather than waiting for his on-scene backup. We know it builds suspense, but it’s a jarring note in this otherwise realistic story about meticulous and careful policing.