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Brighton is faced with a serial rapist who appears to have a fetish for shoes - after the rape, he removes the woman's shoes and takes them with him. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is immediately reminded of a previous unsolved case that he was involved in several years before, during which a young girl disappeared, never to be found. It was precisely at that time that Grace's own wife, Sandy, disappeared and, although he is now having a child with another woman, he has never been able to forget Sandy. If the rapist has reared his ugly head again, why has he chosen to do so after so long? Could it be a copycat rapist? And will Grace's memories of Sandy help him to find some clue as to her disappearance?
Of all the current fictional detectives, Roy Grace is one of the more modern, realistic ones. Although he does rely on good old-fashioned detective work, he is also perfectly capable of using modern technology and delegating work to his juniors - something that many 'maverick' cops prefer not to do. This does make him much more believable and, when combined with all the descriptions of the administration he is forced to do, the book could often be considered to be a documentary of a real case. Thankfully, the author keeps these sections short enough, so that there is never time for it to become boring.
Grace himself is a likable enough man. In previous books, he has been chained to his work; his only goals being to hunt down whatever criminal he is after and to find out what happened to Sandy. By this book, he has settled down with Cleo, a mortician, and they are expecting a baby. This softens him a great deal and makes him much more human - although there is always the hint that all this could come crashing down around him if Sandy ever comes back into the picture. It's a refreshing side to Grace though and it helps to develop his character further.
The main plot is not the best plot that I have come across in this series. Previous plots have been very intricate and modern - involving Internet crime and the selling of body parts on the black market, for example. This is much more traditional crime fiction; there's a serial rapist, possibly murderer, on the loose and it could be a selection of three or four different suspects. That isn't to say it is a bad plot, it just feels a bit like a cop out after previous ones, simply because we've been spoiled. Perhaps Peter James is running out of ideas, or perhaps he is being pushed to get his books out as quickly as possible, but I do hope that he will be allowed to put a little more thought into his next work.
The aspect that really keeps this book going is the Sandy one. For a few books now, there has been a suggestion that her disappearance will eventually be explained, even though Grace is seeking advice from a solicitor so that he can marry Cleo. Here, because the 'shoe man' case reminds him of the time he was married to Sandy, clips of the story involve her, so we are beginning to put together a picture of what their relationship must have been like. All of this really whets the appetite, although it is rather frustrating that the situation doesn't move along as quickly as it could have done. No doubt that is to hook the reader in for the next book in the series.
Peter James' style of writing is becoming a little tiresome in that here, as in former books, it skips around all over the place - rather like Jodi Picoult's work does. First of all, there are different time frames; the book skips back to 1997, then forward to 'now'. Then it hops between different characters; sometimes Grace, sometimes the victims, sometimes the suspects. In some ways, this is good, because it ensures that the pacing of the book is speedy and it creates plenty of opportunities for cliff-hangers to keep the reader going for just a little bit longer. However, if the chapters were a little more meaty, instead of just being a page or two, then it would improve the writing style as far as I'm concerned. It smacks of being overly sensationalist.
This is a good book; the minor niggles about the writing and the relatively unoriginal plot still put it head and shoulders above the rest of the competition. Any fan of modern day crime fiction will love it and, although it does help to have read the books in order from the point of view of character development, it isn't of vital importance. Best of all, there is the Sandy hook, which will encourage many fans to wait impatiently for the next book in the series. Let's hope we aren't kept waiting for too long.
The exported paperback is available from Amazon from £6.54. Published by Macmillan, it has 500 pages. ISBN-10: 0230711243