BRIGHTON’S top cop Roy Grace found his second wind after a disappointing couple of cases around the end of his first dozen – but he appears to be running out of breath again.

This 16th novel in the series begins well, but by the finishing line we wonder whether Grace, protagonist of some of the best crime novels of the past two decades, is finally tiring.

And – to stretch my analogy even further – it's a surprise because in this story Grace trots rather than runs, and is hardly even in the race.

With much of this novel focusing on a court case rather than police investigation, the novel could disappoint many fans who prefer to see Grace on the frontline.

Find Them Dead begins promisingly enough, with various interesting plot strands that for quite a few chapters don't seem to be connected. We're used to this, and we’re confident they'll come together eventually.

Widow Meg Magellan is waving a tearful goodbye to her teenage daughter Laura who is heading off to Ecuador on a backpacking trip.

Small-time crook Mickey Starr is preparing to sneak through Customs with six million pounds of cocaine hidden in a rare classic Ferrari.

Roy Grace himself is treading water, seconded to a Metropolitan Police unit chasing moped muggers around the streets of London.

Mickey is caught, and the trail leads to Brighton solicitor Terence Gready who keeps his head down defending criminals while secretly running one of the biggest drug smuggling networks in the country.

Gready is arrested, but when the court case dawns he attempts to force a not-guilty verdict by putting deadly pressure on a couple of the jurors. And this is where the real story finally begins.

One of the jurors is Meg – blackmailed with pictures of her daughter in Equador – and the scene is set for intrigue in the court chamber, in the jury room, and out on the streets.

As a result of all this the book doesn't deliver for fans of the series: our hero Grace is almost peripheral to much of th story.

That's not to say the book isn't worth reading: Peter James is always an interesting writer, and apart from a few diversions to explain court procedure and a rushed ending, this is an absorbing read.

I think Find Them Dead would have worked better as a stand-alone thriller, still with a focus on the jurors' plight but with a newly-created police detective in the supporting role.

David Knights