A review of You Are Dead by Peter James

Reviewed by Sara Hodon

You are Dead
by Peter James
Pan Books
ISBN-13: 978-1447287971, 2015

Jamie Ball gets a terrified phone call from his fiancée, Logan Somerville, and suddenly he hears a horrible scream before the line goes dead. That’s a lot of action which raises a lot of questions in a short time, but author Peter James manages to grab the reader from the first few pages in his latest thriller, You Are Dead.

Logan is the latest in a series of young women to be stalked and abducted in the normally peaceful, quiet town of Brighton, UK. Hours after the young woman is reported missing, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace and his Major Crime Team are called to the scene. Logan, a beautiful young woman with long brown hair, has a bright future ahead of her—a fledgling but steadily growing chiropractic practice, a loving family, Jamie… Or does she? As James reveals more of the Logan/Jamie dynamic, the young man’s intentions become murkier.

Soon after Logan is abducted, the remains of a young woman determined to be in her early twenties are unearthed at a construction site. The remains are determined to be approximately 30 years old. As Grace and his team dig deeper, they find more than a few similarities between the two incidents. In the meantime, another young woman is abducted. Could there be a connection? It’s up to Grace and his team to find out.

Authors have to constantly stay one step ahead of the reader because of a reading public that gets more and more sophisticated and savvy, and James does this beautifully in You Are Dead. After a series of related events, Grace determines that the town of Brighton now has a serial killer among them. The pressure is on—Grace and his team must find Logan and discover the killer’s identity while keeping the town’s residents (particularly the young women) safe and the panic levels low.

Logan’s abduction remains the central event throughout the plot, and James introduces a number of secondary characters with interesting backstories—and enough of a history with Logan to make it seem as though any one of them could be the culprit. One of these characters is esteemed semi-retired psychiatrist Jacob Van Dam, Logan’s uncle,. One afternoon Dr. Van Dam has an unusual new patient consultation with a Dr. Harrison Hunter, whose very presence unsettles Dr. Van Dam deeply. Dr. Hunter claims to have some important information about Logan’s whereabouts. Dr. Van Dam is ready to write this new patient off as unstable until Hunter offers an important clue—Logan’s abductor has branded the young woman’s inner thigh with the words “You Are Dead”. How does he know this? What’s his connection to Logan? Dr. Van Dam is tormented by these and other questions that might help him save his niece. Meanwhile, other young women (all with long brown hair) are abducted and killed. Grace and his team follow clues that the killer has left, but arrive too late to save two of the victims. Once the police release this vital piece of information to the press, the search is on for the Brighton Brander.

Another secondary character that stands out is Dr. Edward Crisp, a GP who happens to be walking his dog near the construction site the day the bones are recovered. While he seems to be an amiable sort at first, in his later scenes something seems…off…about him. (The first clue? His dog is named Smut). James reveals more details later, and the reader may find themselves sitting up a bit as more pieces fall into place. He is one character to watch closely throughout, particularly as the police learn more about his background. Every criminal has a few missteps, but the Brighton Brander’s plans are relatively solid until later in the book, so it really feels as though this crime spree could go on for some time.

All of James’ female characters are strong, intelligent, and capable—even those young women who are kidnapped don’t go quietly. Most of the female characters are in law enforcement or another male-dominated profession, but appear to hold their own admirably. The fact that James has such strong female characters makes the turn of events all the more frightening—that, literally, something unfortunate can happen to anyone, at any time. You get the sense that had these women not been caught off guard, any of them would be a force to be reckoned with.

James keeps his chapters short, which helps to both heighten the tension and keep the details to a minimum—he only reveals what he feels the reader needs to know at a given time. James is known for conducting extensive research alongside real police officers, which adds a strong element of authenticity to the story. Besides the Logan/serial killer plot, James spends a good bit of time on a secondary storyline with Roy Grace, who is recently remarried (his first wife, Sandy, disappeared mysteriously several years ago—this plot point emerges a few times throughout the story as well), and enjoying life as a new father. That is, when his job allows. It’s no secret that personal time is often sacrificed in the name of work time, and James gives an accurate account of the toll police life takes on family life.

I don’t read thrillers regularly, but You Are Dead caught and kept my attention throughout. James kept a tight rein on the plot, and there was no obvious suspect. He added a twist to Logan and Jamie’s engagement that I didn’t expect, although I would have liked more details on that relationship. The subplot involving Roy Grace’s mysterious first wife also seems like it could potentially be a book of its own. James didn’t offer up an “easy” ending—Grace and his team worked hard to identify and locate the killer, and even then, the ending was truly something I never saw coming.

Filled with twists and turns, You Are Dead is a solidly-written thriller with a solid storyline that will keep you guessing until the very end.

About the reviewer: Sara Hodon is a Pennsylvania-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in over two dozen print and online publications.