Thursday, 25 August 2011

Dead Simple by Peter James

I have harboured a lifelong mistrust of stag nights and reading Peter James Brighton based crime novel hasn’t exactly made me change my mind. Detective Superintendant Roy Grace finds himself investigating the aftermath of a particularly messy night out which has left four men dead and one missing.

The stag and his mates have started the evening off with a pub crawl and a fairly bibulous one at that. Still, at least they’ve had the sense to keep a designated driver, Rob:

With three pubs notched up already in the past hour and a half, and four more on the itinerary, he was sticking to shandy. At least, that head been his intention; but he’d managed to slip down a couple of pints of pure Harvey’s bitter – to clear his head for the task of driving, he’d said.

In the back of the van, the stag, Michael, is blissfully unaware that his friends are up to no good and that there might be mischief afoot:

Michael, lolling on a tartan rug on the floor in the back of the van, was feeling very pleasantly woozy. “I sh’ink I need another drink,” he slurred. If he’d had his wits about him, he might have sensed, from the expressions of his friends, that something was not quite right. Never usually much of a heavy drinker, tonight he’d parked his brains in the dregs of more empty pint glasses and vodka chasers than he could remember downing, in more pubs than had been sensible to visit.

The stag night gag is that his mates have procured a coffin, which Michael gets put into and buried alive in a hole in the Ashdown Forest. The scamps! He won’t be there for long as they’ll only be going to another pub for an hour or so before letting him out, and they’ve left him a flashlight, a walkie-talkie, some porn and a bottle of scotch...

Unfortunately, Michael’s charming friends meet with a bit of an accident on their way to the next watering hole and in a scene straight out of a ‘don’t drink and drive’ campaign, plough straight into the front of a cement truck, killing them instantly. Michael is going to be down there a bit longer than anticipated:

He was desperate for water, his mouth arid and furry. Had they left him any water? He lifted his neck up just the few inches that were available before his head struck the lid, saw the glint of the bottle, reached down. Famous Grouse whisky. Disappointed, he broke the seal, unscrewed the cap and took a swig. For a moment just the sensation of liquid felt like balm in his mouth; then it turned to fire, burning his mouth, then his gullet. But almost instantly after that he felt a little better. He took another swig. Felt a little better still, and took a third, long swig before he replaced the cap.

After a couple of days, it’s getting obvious that his friends aren’t coming back, so Michael starts to dig himself out with the only tool he has:

He picked up the whisky bottle. Still a third of its contents left. He struck the top of the bottle hard against the wood above him. Nothing happened. He tried again, heard a dull thud. A tiny sliver of glass sheared off. Tragic to waste it. He put the neck into his mouth, tilted it, swallowed a mouthful of the burning liquid. God, it tasted good, so good. He lay back, up-ended the bottle into his mouth and let it pour in, swallowing, swallowing, swallowing until he choked.

Having to dig yourself out of a coffin with a broken bottle sounds bad enough, but things are about to get a lot more complicated for investigating officer Grace, and a lot worse for Michael, who is definitely not going to make it to the church on time...

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