If there is one thing about Peter James, it’s that he is a truly prolific author. He has written 26 novels – which have sold fourteen million copies worldwide – and has also been involved as writer and producer of numerous movies, including the 2005 BAFTA nominated adaptation of The Merchant of Venice. Best known for his “Roy Grace” crime series, James’ trademark is his meticulous research into criminology and his close association with the British police force, whom he credits with supplying him not just with insiders’ views of crime fighting, but also for providing the inspiration for many of his novels’ plotlines.
Want you Dead, Peter James’ tenth novel in the Roy Grace series, is no exception to this rule. The idea of an internet romance gone badly wrong originated from a true-life story told to him by a Chief Superintendent from the Brighton police, where a seemingly innocent relationship soon turns into a murderous nightmare for an unsuspecting young woman. The idea of a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, or a woman who gets unwittingly involved in a violent and abusive relationship, is by no means uncharted fictional territory – however, the intensity with which Bryce Laurent, the antagonist of Want you Dead, pursues his revenge over his ex-girlfriend Red Westwood, is taken to new heights in this novel.
The novel begins with the brutal murder of Red’s new boyfriend Karl Murphy by Bryce, whose character seems so completely beyond any trace of sanity, that it is hard to imagine him as anything other than the rambling, somewhat two-dimensional maniac whose stream of consciousness is unleashed on the reader every couple of chapters or so. Couple that with the depiction of Red herself, who in the midst of her recovery from her relationship with Bryce seeks the solace of the wine bottle and a counsellor – with whom she has excruciatingly text-book discussions about her lack of self-esteem – and who just keeps making some outrageously daft choices, and you have two somewhat insubstantial and strangely unsatisfying characters.
As the story develops, and Bryce gets more and more determined to ruin Red’s life – in increasingly improbable scenarios – it is the depiction of Roy Grace and his various contextual background stories that step in with the mission to rescue Red from Bryce, as well as to rescue the reader from a fairly unsurprising narrative filled with disagreeable characters. By the tenth novel in the series Roy Grace has definitely become a stalwart character, whose kind intelligence has earned him a loyal readership over the past nine novels in the series.
There is probably enough drama and tension in Want you Dead to keep the fans of the series engrossed, but while the novel has some intense and absorbing action scenes – which almost make the slog through the more predictable and frustrating scenes worth reading – there is also something a bit too formulaic, or casual about the plotline and character constructions, which prevent this novel from being the truly expressive and engaging read that it could have been.