Thursday, January 15, 2009

"Looking Good Dead"

Peter James has worked as a screenwriter and a producer of numerous films, including the The Merchant Of Venice, starring Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons and Joseph Fiennes. His novels include the award winning Detective Superintendent Roy Grace crime series, which Judith Cutler calls "predictably deeply researched, elegantly written, fiendishly plotted and impossible to put down."

There are now four novels in the series: Dead Simple, Looking Good Dead, Not Dead Enough, and Dead Man's Footsteps.

James applied the Page 69 Test to Looking Good Dead and reported the following:
Below is Page 69, the first page of Chapter 11 of Looking Good Dead in my original manuscript.

Looking Good Dead tells the story of Tom Bryce, a happily married man who commutes daily from Brighton where he lives, to his office in London. One night, travelling home, he finds a CD left behind by the man in the seat next to him. Being a decent guy, when he gets home Tom loads the CD into his computer to see if it will give him a name and address to return it to. Instead, he gets driven to a web site in which he witnesses the brutal murder of a beautiful young woman.

At first he thinks perhaps it was just a movie – maybe a trailer for a horror movie. But then two days later, the remains of that woman are found in a field outside Brighton. And the nightmare for Tom and his family has just begun. He is warned that if he goes to the police and tells them what he saw, the same thing will happen to his wife and to his two young children.

Here on page 69 is part of the scene in which the woman’s body is being examined by the police.


Shortly after half past four in the afternoon, at the end of three hours of painstaking scrutiny, the dismembered remains of the young woman beneath the awning, in the rain-lashed field of rape, had come close to yielding as much as they were going to out here, the Home Office pathologist decided.

He completed the primitive but effective technique of pressing sellotape against every inch of her flesh in the hope of trapping more fibres, tweezered off a few fibres that had lodged in her pubic hair, carefully bagging each of them, then ran his eye once more, over the body parts, and the ground immediately around them, concentrating fiercely, checking just one more time for anything he might have missed.

Grace would have preferred the pathologist to go straight to the mortuary and perform the post-mortem this evening, which was normal practice. But Theobald informed him, apologetically, he was already committed to a PM in Hampshire for a suspicious yachting death.

In an ideal world, all post-mortems on murder victims would be carried out in situ, as there was such a risk in moving them of losing some vital clue, perhaps invisible to the naked eye. But a muddy, wind-blown, rain-swept field did not constitute an ideal world. Bodies were seldom found in places that were post-mortem friendly. Some pathologists preferred to spend a minimal amount of time at the crime scene, and return to the relatively pleasant working environment of the mortuary. But Dr Frazer Theobald was not one of them. He could be at a scene late into the night, indeed all through the night, if necessary, before declaring himself satisfied that the remains were ready to be removed to the mortuary.

Grace looked at his watch. His mind was partly on his date tomorrow night. It would be good to get off before the shops shut today. He knew it was wrong to be thinking this way, but for years his sister, and everyone else, had been telling him to get a life. For the first time since Sandy had gone he had met a woman that he really was interested in. But he was worried that his wardrobe was crap, and he needed some new summer clothes. Then he tried to put his date out of his mind and concentrate on his work.

The young woman’s head had still not yet been found. Roy Grace had called in a POLSA, a Police Search Advisor, and several police vans had already arrived filled with constables, many of them Specials, and begun a line search of the area. The driving rain was hampering visibility, and the helicopter droned low overhead, covering a slightly wider area. Only the police Alsatians, bounding away in the distance, seemed unphased by the elements. To the local farmer’s chagrin, a sixty-deep line of policemen, wearing fluorescent jackets in an even brighter yellow than the crop, were systematically trampling over every square inch of his field.

Grace had spent much of the time on his phone, organizing the search, arranging a workspace for the team he would be assembling, in the Major Incident Suite, obtaining an incident code name from the Sussex Police Computer, and listening to reports on the profiles of a handful of young women who had been reported missing in the past few days. There was only one missing person report,
Read the first two chapters of Looking Good Dead and learn more about the author and his work at the official Peter James website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue