Monday, 10 June 2013

Cop to Corpse, by Peter Lovesey
Well, just about the only thing I am going to object to with Mr Lovesey’s book is its title.  Because it sounds like one of those airport or railway station cheapies, dedicated crime readers (and there are so many of us!) might give it the big miss, not realising what a cleverly crafted, beautifully plotted novel it is – unless they have come across Mr Lovesey before.  He has a prolific body of work and a stellar reputation among crime writers, and now that I have finally caught up with him (thanks to a glowing review in a local magazine), it is a real pleasure to meet his main protagonist, Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond of the Bath Police force.
Peter is a diamond of the rough variety;  overweight, unfit, and an arch-cynic – there is very little that surprises him anymore about the punters he deals with;  he has seen it all, and experienced more than anyone should, including the murder of his beloved wife – but the scum of society hasn’t stopped him from being a superb investigator and an inspiring team leader.  And he needs these skills now more than ever, because someone has started to murder policemen.
When the story opens, the third police constable has just been shot, turning ‘from hero to zero, cop to corpse’ and within a very short time the ancient Roman city of Bath is in an uproar;  a serial killer must surely be on the loose and no policeman is safe – especially when a note is found in the belongings of the latest victim saying ‘You’re next.’
Oh, the plot thickens nicely, especially when available evidence starts to point to the killings being an inside job:  someone murdering one of their own.  When this theory is posited by Diamond to his team he earns the ire of everyone;  such a suggestion is utterly unthinkable, and he’d better come up with something else or he’d be operating solo in future – and that is what Diamond does, not least to disprove his own disquieting suspicions.
There are great, believable characters in this story;  Mr Lovesey knows his beloved Bath well, and evokes its historic, beautiful buildings,  atmosphere and people with much skill and affection.  He is so credible in his portrayals, not only of the good guys but of the baddies as well, that his story has a gritty streetwise reality not always found in in your ordinary everyday detective yarn;  in fact he elevates the genre to a much higher level, thanks to his great writing skills and the ability to keep all his readers guessing.
So, whodunnit?  I didn’t know until the very end!   Highly recommended.

The Tooth Tattoo, by Peter Lovesey
Here’s a first:  me reviewing two books back to back by the same author.  Well, after reading ‘Cop to Corpse’, I had to go on to Mr Lovesey’s latest effort, and I’m thrilled to say that in my humble opinion, it is even better.  What a superbly entertaining writer he is, and what a clever plot:  two young Japanese women have been killed, their bodies dumped in water, one in a Vienna canal and one in a river in Bath, Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond’s stamping ground.
On the face of things there appears to be no connection between the two deaths except for their ethnicity;  then it transpires that both girls were classical music buffs (one with a tooth tattoo, enormously fashionable in Japan, of a quaver) and were dedicated fans of a particular Chamber music quartet, the Staccati – who happened to be giving concerts in the same cities, at the same time that the girls were killed.
A flimsy coincidence?  As Diamond pursues with his team the scant evidence available to him it becomes increasingly obvious that the Staccati, newly re-formed after the disappearance of their violist four years before has a relevance to the murders which cannot be satisfactorily explained by its members:  their stories, whilst plausible, are not watertight and it falls to the team to keep digging until the truth emerges.
And it does.  As before, I had no idea whodunnit, and once again I was delighted by Mr Lovesey’s strong characters and busy plotting.  As my dear old Granny would say:  ‘He knows his onions!’  And as an added bonus, he writes most beautifully about music;  its composition, the musicians who make it, and the instruments on which they play.  It is obvious that Mr Lovesey is a true music lover:  for plot purposes he would have had to conduct exhaustive musical research, but his great love for the classics must have made writing about the mechanics of music a breeze, and has certainly been a true pleasure to read.  Mr Lovesey is a star!  Highly recommended.         


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