Want You Dead

Posted by on Dec 4, 2014 in Reviews | 0 comments

Peter James is renowned as the creator of Roy Grace, a Sussex detective with a substantial fan-base amongst readers all around the world, and this book sees the Superintendent pitting his wits against a master of magic. As part of his research, the author consulted local magician Matt Wainwright and I was intrigued to read the result.

Want You Dead is the tenth book in the Roy Grace series and I have to admit I hadn’t heard of any of it until this novel was mentioned in the magic media. Before plunging into the tenth one, I decided to read the first in the series first and I’m glad I did. Dead Simple is a well paced tale that twists and turns unexpectedly and introduces a police officer whose wife has gone missing, who plays poker with his friends every Thursday evening and is pleasantly less maverick than many fictional detectives.

Perhaps it was my perspective as a magician, but I was disappointed by Want You Dead. For a start, how could Peter James have made such a basic mistake as referring to close-up magic as “close magic”? Not just once, which could have been a misprint, but all the way through. Even if the phrase had never come up in consultation with Matt Wainwright (surely impossible), five seconds on Google would have set him straight. This kind of error is distracting and undermines the credibility of the narrative.

Not that the narrative is entirely convincing anyway. Although I liked Red Westwood, the young woman in mortal danger from the psychopathic magician, I found several of her decisions contrived and implausible. The use of real people in the story (including Matt Wainwright himself) compounds this, making some of the writing self-conscious and giving me the sensation of swaying between two worlds, that of the novel and that of the as-it-were puppet-master.

My biggest beef is the character of the magician. Despite an attempt to explain how he came to be as thoroughly nasty as he is, Bryce Laurent is a one-dimensional villain and it seemed to me the writer was calling on the stereotype of the antisocial loner who uses magic to manipulate and frighten people. This jarred particularly because the author appears to believe in the paranormal. After a childhood experience, Roy Grace is open to the supernatural and occasionally seeks help with his detective work from a psychic – the latter being, within the fictional context, genuine. I don’t really know why but I had hoped this quirk would lead Peter James to give a bit of depth and subtlety to his treatment of a magician.

However, having been so negative, I must also tell you I read this book in two days: irritations aside, I had to know how events unfolded and how it all ended. I also liked Red’s therapist, who makes a couple of appearances. This novel may do nothing to rehabilitate the image of magicians but it does show the value of psychotherapy.

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