Contributor: Rosalind Esche

At the beginning of lockdown in the spring of 2020 I thought I would make use of the extra time at home to catch up on my ever growing, and increasingly daunting, ‘to be read’ pile, which in my imagination had assumed an accusatory air, with each new tome added increasing my sense of failure. However, I found myself unable to pick up a book, my concentration was in shreds, my motivation non existent. This ‘reader’s block’ lasted for several months, during which I turned to the uplifting and life affirming drama series Life on Mars, which became my lifeline, as it did for so many others. And it was a tv drama which finally kickstarted me into reading again – the ITV adaptation of Peter James’s Roy Grace novel Dead Simple, starring John Simm as Detective Superintendent Grace. I enjoyed the dramatisation so much I decided to read the book, and that was it – I was hooked, and have been powering through the Roy Grace series ever since.

I like the cumulative effect of binge reading these books, I feel immersed in Detective Superintendent Roy Grace’s world, his thought processes, his working methods, his relationships and his city, Brighton. I am completely absorbed by the authenticity for which Peter James is known and respected. I am learning things about police investigation methods I didn’t know I even wanted to know! Have I always been a closet police procedural nerd without realising it? Or have these compelling books turned me into one? I don’t know, but I’m so glad I discovered this series.

The author steadily builds an atmosphere of deep concentration, absolute dedication and quiet reflection, creating an aura of resolute professionalism around his Detective Superintendent Roy Grace as he takes control of a major crime investigation. Grace exudes calm authority, and is liked and respected by his team of trusted officers, which expands into a cast of dozens as an investigation gains momentum and the field of enquiry grows ever wider. 

However, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, consummate professional that he is, is also capable of pursuing his own lines of enquiry outside the normal investigative framework when he thinks it will help solve a case. And that can lead him into some most unusual territory. Grace uses the paranormal if he thinks it will help his investigation (openly admitting that sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t), consulting mediums and pendulum dowsers. James has said that the police do this more than we might think, simply viewing them as another resource in the pursuit of information, which intrigued me.

In the first Grace book, Dead Simple, the detective faces a hostile QC who tries to undermine his authority in court by ridiculing his use of a medium during the course of an investigation (which led to a conviction). The silk taunts Grace with his line of questioning:

‘”So you regularly turn to the dark arts in your work as a senior police officer, do you Detective Superintendent Grace?” An audible snigger rippled round the courtroom. “I wouldn’t call it the dark arts,” Grace said. “I would call it an alternative resource. The police have a duty to use everything at their disposal in trying to solve crimes.” “So would it be fair to say you are a man of the occult? A believer in the supernatural?” the silk asked.’

In one of my favourite moments of the book, Peter James supplies his beleagured Detective Superintendent with an inspired response to his interrogator:

‘”What is the first thing this court required me to do when I entered the witness stand?” he asked. Before the silk could respond, Grace answered for him. “To swear on the Holy Bible.” He paused for it to sink in. “God is a supernatural being – the supreme supernatural being. In a court that accepts witnesses taking an oath to a supernatural being, it would be strange if I and everyone else in this room did not believe in the supernatural.”’

The silk sits down.

There is another reason for Grace consulting mediums and the paranormal, but that will have to wait …

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